Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I have a note regarding seven independent tracks which will require local authority licences. I have a number of notes on the whole issue of those licences, but, given that we do not wish consideration of other matters to be put under pressure, I shall skip to my principal concern: there is no specific cover for the welfare of dogs off the track. To this extent, there is a risk that the Government will create the illusion of tackling the greyhound scandal, as reported in the media, but fail to get to grips with its essential elements.

There is nothing about breeding, which is a hot topic in the dog world. Above all, there is nothing about euthanasia. Are the Government content to rely on the general provisions of animal welfare to deal with this? I should indicate my interest as I occasionally attend the meetings of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, which is meeting at this present time. It estimates that 4,728 retired dogs were not accounted for in the period under review. Even simple sums show that the annual cohort of racing dogs is around 7,000 out of 14,000 dogs racing at any one time-dogs have a two-year active life in the racing world. It would appear that 4,500 are rehoused. Everyone knows where a proportion of those dogs have gone, but there is a black hole in relation to the remainder. It is particularly disappointing that while the Government have conducted a consultation on this process, they did not consider that issue.

The outcry about the number greyhounds killed at the end of their racing career was well publicised in the Sunday Times. At the time, one could have been forgiven for concluding that concern about premature death and the means by which it was achieved by far outweighed concern about conditions on racetracks. The Government claim on page 3 of the Explanatory

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC171

Memorandum that there was insufficient evidence to support the introduction of regulations concerning retired greyhounds. As page 9 of the memorandum points out at paragraphs 3.3 and 3.4, the number of dogs not recorded as rehomed is several thousand. There is certainly no reason to disbelieve the figures for deaths quoted in the paper and on the radio during the passage of the Animal Welfare Act. To that extent, the regulations ignore this and they represent unfinished business.

5.15 pm

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, we on these Benches also broadly support the order. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, declared that he was an irregular attender at the All-Party Parliamentary Greyhound Group. I am afraid that I need to declare an interest as an all-too-regular attender at Oxford, Swindon, Reading, White City, Wimbledon, Haringey, Wembley, Birmingham Hall Green, Brighton and Catford in my misspent youth. I stopped going to the dogs about a quarter of a century ago, but I should declare that I was responsible for leading the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, astray when we were both special advisers; I introduced him to dog racing at Wimbledon. I believe-the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, will tell me if I am wrong-that to this day he and the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, have a share in a slow dog running there. Like probably too many noble Lords I speak from intimate knowledge of this matter, but from a long time ago.

These regulations apply to only a few remaining flapper tracks, as dog-fanciers call them in this country-that is, independent tracks-and I would appreciate if we could know how many there are left; whether it is six or seven, I am amazed by how few there are. Perhaps the Minister could write to us and let us know. These tracks are the remnants of a long tradition of working men, often retired miners, enjoying this sport, particularly in the north of the country.

We share some of the same concerns about whether the regulations go far enough and whether the welfare of dogs is properly covered. Given how far the sport has now declined, though, one has to accept that the capacity of those tracks to spend a lot more is very limited. I am sure that the Government are right to say that to go further would be disproportionate because there would then be a danger that these tracks would close.

I want to ask particularly about the questions raised by the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA as to whether there should be more access to statutory information so that they can protect injured greyhounds or greyhounds that may well be coming to them after they have left the sport. Have the Government considered that?

In general, though, we would appreciate knowing how many independent tracks there are left. We broadly support the order.

Lord Bilston: I shall intercede for a few seconds to give my support to these regulations. I do so on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Greyhound Group, of

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC172

which I am joint chairman. The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, referred to his past involvement with greyhound racing and I have been involved with it for about 50 years. Consequently, I think I know something about greyhounds and the greyhound industry.

I speak on behalf of the parliamentary group in commending this regulation. We do so because we believe that we have made extensive progress over the past few years in the welfare of greyhounds. I concede to the criticism that may be made of greyhounds' welfare that, years ago, that was not always the case. However, our group has spent considerable time in the past four or five years concentrating on the important issue of greyhound welfare in conjunction with Defra and Ministers, who have come continuously to our group meetings in order us to discuss how we can progress this important issue.

I believe we are making good progress. This is a very important regulation, particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, for the independent tracks-the old flapper tracks-which until recently were not under any control at all. It ought to be recognised that our own parliamentary group and the GBGB, the organisation for greyhounds, have taken a great deal of the initiative to bring about the present situation. When we talk about the independent tracks in this legislation, it is they that we feel ought to have the benefit of the oversight of local authorities.

It is fair to say that, under the accreditation system that applies to registered tracks, we already have the high regulations that are included in these regulations. All I urge on noble Lords today is that this is a very important milestone but it is not the end. We have continually to be vigilant about greyhound welfare. We must concentrate, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, on rehoming, which is very important. A few years ago probably only 25 per cent of greyhounds were being rehomed; I think the figure is now around 80 per cent. But that is still not good enough; we still need to make further progress-and we will do so if we have noble Lords' support for these regulations today.

Incidentally, as we know, the regulations went through the House of Commons this morning, where honourable Members approved them. I hope that both Houses of Parliament give their blessing to these regulations. We shall continue, as an all-party parliamentary group, to represent all our interests, the interests of greyhounds and the interests of those who, as the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, enjoy the pleasure of greyhound racing. It is a great sport and many thousands of people enjoy it, but it can only succeed and be a good and happy sport that is pleasurable for people if we know that, at the end of the greyhounds' racing days, they will have a happy and contented life. We all want to see that. That is why we work in harmony, in B-flat, with the animal welfare organisations to achieve it.

Lord James of Blackheath: I am never quite certain when it is appropriate to speak in these Committees so if I am out of order tell me now. I speak as an owner of greyhounds, past and present, and I have two concerns to raise today. The first has to do with the greyhound orphanages, which are wonderful creations but very

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC173

expensive to put your dogs into. It costs roughly £5.50 a day to lodge them there; it can take up to 200 days or more to find them a home; and you can face a bill for £1,000 for a dog that has retired. How much better it would be if a subsidy could come into those orphanages from the racetracks themselves in some form of earlier levy that would make it a better incentive for the owners to contribute their dogs to the orphanages. They are beautifully run and very successful, but they take time.

I come to my second and far greater concern. I currently have two dogs that raced for me and are now retired. Both are subject to one thing that is quite appalling: they have been tattooed in each ear. As a result, they have a lifelong aversion to anybody touching their ears, to the point where they scream. It was done very painfully and it is not a nice process. The Irish are particularly brutal on it because they use a longer number. Furthermore, the dogs that come from Ireland-this is deplorable-are all terrified of their ears being touched because they are dragged around by plastic pincers in the yards there. We ought to make some sort of law against those dogs being imported to this country as a disincentive to the Irish to do that. We should have some far stricter control on this deplorable treatment of these lovely animals.

Lord Hoyle: I was a member of the animal welfare group that looked into this matter. While the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, has had greyhounds that run, whenever I go to a track, unfortunately for me, I never win at all. So whatever I say in relation to that does not apply.

I am pleased that we are going as far as we are, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that we should go much further. We should be looking at what happens with the breeders, the kennels and the rest. I am concerned about the fact that there are still greyhounds-we estimated 4,700 in the report-that are unaccounted for.

This is a start. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, say that it was not the end; that we have to go much further. We have to see what happens to the dogs. I agree with what was said about Irish dogs, which account for a large percentage of our greyhounds. In many cases they do not enjoy even the minimum welfare standards that we have here and that needs to be looked at. Something needs to be done about them because greyhound racing is very dependent on dogs coming in from Ireland.

I shall not prolong the debate because many of the things I wanted to say have been said. We ought to be able to account for a greyhound from its birth, through its short racing life and through to what happens to it when it has finished racing. I look forward to these regulations being only the start. We should extend them to breeders and trainers and ensure that good welfare standards also apply when greyhounds have finished racing.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I must, as the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, implied, declare and admit that I am currently a half-owner of not just a slow but

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC174

an increasingly slower greyhound. I should add that although she is among my many loss-making investments, she is the most beautiful and much preferable to any of the others.

I chaired the recent committee of inquiry into the sport whose report put dog welfare at the centre. I should declare that, when a young teenager, I was an assistant to the bookmaker at the old Earls Barton track, certainly a flapper by any standards. I have never forgotten the occasion when he was driving home and he pulled a revolver from his pocket, showed it to me while driving and simply said, "You get some dodgy people at the greyhounds". You get some nice ones too, though.

I support these regulations. I know that for some dog welfare people they do not go far enough, but that is always the case. I spoke to a leading executive from the Dogs Trust this week and she said that they were not quite enough, but they were pretty good. We can be pleased with that.

The independent tracks are the main welfare issue. We suggested the regulations, and they are the most practical way to approach the issue. On a visit to a flapping track in Lancashire, near Bolton, I had the most pleasurable greyhound evening of my life, so the objective should not be, as some people suggested to my committee, to eliminate these independent tracks; rather, we should help them and encourage them in stages-they cannot do it immediately-to become UKAS-accredited and part of the mainstream. We should not claim to be against them.

The noble Lord referred to the "greyhound scandal". That is an unfortunate and excessive phrase to use about the sport. Frankly, that is typical of media trash. When I was on the committee, I deliberately asked that journalist to come to give evidence so that we could question him. Not to my surprise, having worked on the same newspaper myself, he was too busy to come to be grilled. Do not talk about the greyhound scandal, especially because of the enormous improvement that has taken place and is continuing.

The issue of retired greyhounds is a major factor, but the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, when he was chairman, did an enormous amount to advance that. The provisions for retired greyhounds are now excellent and are wholly to the credit of the committee. I thank the Government. I have a question regarding paragraph (6)(2) in Part 1 of the schedule, on greyhound injuries. It rightly relates to licensed tracks keeping, through the vet, records of injuries. I am unclear as to whether tracks are encouraged or required to publish those records. My impression was that different tracks, because they have different configurations and surfaces, keep different records. It would be helpful if the sport was aware that some tracks were more injury-prone than others. Perhaps they could be encouraged to alter and improve the surfaces.

Apart from those points, I congratulate the Government and the department on the progress that they have made. I hope that noble Lords will wholly approve of what is before them.

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC175

5.30 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke, particularly those members of the all-party group who spoke with such authority and have rendered this response somewhat redundant. I am grateful for the recognition that the regulations take the welfare of greyhounds forward substantially, and for the endorsement of noble Lords who have worked with the all-party group and in other quarters to produce the benefits which the regulations will bring.

I noted a number of points of criticism. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in his opening remarks, somewhat echoed by noble Lords on the Committee, said that the regulations could go further. The Government think that the Animal Welfare Act gives considerable protection to greyhounds. The additional factors that are part of the regulations take matters a good deal further. The basic provisions of the Act are nevertheless an important and substantial basis for the care of greyhounds. The debate highlighted that the position of racing may be well covered and safeguarded.

I apologise that I said there were six independent tracks, but I was corrected. The figure is certainly seven and I do not know why on earth I dared to strain such august company with an incorrect number. Why do we not get figures from those seven tracks about safety? There is the obvious anxiety that they might not record injuries effectively if they thought that fingers would be pointed directly at them regarding their record compared to other tracks. We are interested in the overall welfare of greyhounds.

We persist in our stance that it is better that the Greyhound Board of Great Britain produces overall statistics in which we can measure either the improvement or, heaven forbid, a deterioration in greyhound welfare, whereas identifying individual tracks might be a counterproductive measure-not least because I have again noted that noble Lords have suggested that someone can pay up for additional welfare. This is not an industry that is enormously replete with funds, and where the funds are, it is often difficult to prise them away for the benefit of the greyhounds themselves.

There is no question of a compulsory levy. The industry would not stand for that in the consultation. I am, however, happy to report, although they have scarcely been mentioned in this debate, that an interest group related to greyhound racing is bookmakers, who are contributing towards a levy for welfare, and that gives extra resources. We can build upon what we have here.

We are, of course, concerned about the aspect that concerned all noble Lords in this debate: the welfare of greyhounds after they finish racing. The noble Lord, Lord James, was entirely in order in making his contribution, and a very constructive contribution it was. One part that was very constructive, although I cannot follow him in his construction, is his point that if dogs are treated cruelly and painfully then, as intelligent animals, they sustain the mark of that cruelty. With regard to aggressive tattooing of the ears, though, we are not able to restrict greyhounds from the Republic of Ireland. We are part of the European Community,

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC176

and we could not lightly take on distraint upon trade in those terms without facing potential wrath from elsewhere.

Lord James of Blackheath: The chip is better, cheaper and more effective, and it would be a simple requirement to impose.

Lord Davies of Oldham: Yes, it is easy to impose upon British greyhounds, but not upon greyhounds that are imported. The noble Lord knows that; he is not one who advocates great distraints upon trade, and he will recognise that we would get into trouble if we introduced the dimension of putting a distraint on the importation of greyhounds from the Republic. We must expect, though, that when we set standards for our tracks and the care of our animals, in due course those standards will be reflected in other dogs that arrive here. The Irish practice that the noble Lord has referred to as being unacceptable will gradually not be perpetrated there as they follow the patterns that we use for identification here.

There is no way that I can match the levels of expertise that have been reflected in this Committee, but I am delighted that our measures are recognised as advancing the welfare of greyhounds. I appreciate that if a sufficient head of steam with regard to the industry is generated for additional measures, some of which have been suggested today, we will improve even on what we have.

Lord Bilston: As a result of these regulations, the All-Party Parliamentary Greyhound Group has been deprived of a wonderful evening at Wimbledon; we were going greyhound racing tonight. We shall be going in the near future, though, and the Minister and other Members of this august Committee will be very welcome to join us.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: The noble Lord, Lord Bilston, is still in time. The hare is not running yet, you know.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am sure that the whole Committee is grateful for that invitation; I will be in contact with my noble friend about that. If we do go, we will be looking at dogs that are inherently healthy and well cared for. We want to see their welfare improved.

Motion agreed.

Occupational Pension Schemes (Levy Ceiling) Order 2010

Occupational Pension Schemes (Levy Ceiling) Order 2010
6th Report Joint Committee Statutory Instruments

Considered in Grand Committee

5.40 pm

Moved By Lord McKenzie of Luton

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC177

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, before I explain these orders, noble Lords may find it helpful if I say a little about the work of the PPF in the year since we last debated these orders.

As noble Lords are aware, the Pension Protection Fund protects members of defined-benefit occupational pension schemes and members of defined-benefit parts of hybrid defined-benefit and defined-contribution schemes. It pays a statutory level of compensation if the sponsoring employer of the scheme experiences what is called a qualifying insolvency event-for example, where a company enters administration, where there is no possibility of a scheme rescue or where there are insufficient assets in the scheme to pay benefits at PPF compensation levels-that is, 90 per cent for deferred and active members and 100 per cent for people over normal pension age. The fund is administered by the board of the Pension Protection Fund, which is a public corporation.

The Pension Protection Fund is funded from three sources: the assets of pension schemes that transfer to it, including any recoveries from former employers; a levy charged on the schemes that are protected by it; and investment returns on those assets. The fund ensures that members of eligible defined-benefit schemes still receive a meaningful income in place of the pension they had worked for and would have received, had their employer not experienced a qualifying insolvency event and the fund of which they were a member not been unable to pay benefits at Pension Protection Fund levels.

Since 2005, 181 schemes have been assessed by the Pension Protection Fund following an employer insolvency event. At present 363 schemes, with around 203,000 members, are currently being assessed. As at the end of December 2009, 109 schemes had transferred into the PPF and over 32,800 people were either receiving PPF compensation or due to receive it in the future. The average yearly payment per person is around £4,000.

When the 2009 versions of these instruments were debated around this time last year, 74 schemes, with around 20,000 members, had transferred into the PPF, and 295 schemes, with around 134,000 members, were in assessment. This increase in numbers over the previous year shows the challenges that the PPF has had to face and the results of its efforts over the past year. The PPF's contribution is welcomed, I am sure, by noble Lords. At these difficult times, I am sure that the 12 million people protected by the PPF will be particularly glad to know of its protection.

However, I know that noble Lords will also be keen to understand that the PPF is fulfilling its statutory purpose and that it will continue to be able to pay compensation going forward. Let me be clear on this: with around £3.7 billion under management, and a levy intended to raise £720 million in 2010-11, there is no doubt that the PPF has the liquidity to pay a monthly compensation bill of around £6.5 million.

Importantly, under even the most taxing economic scenarios that we have tested, the PPF could continue

9 Feb 2010 : Column GC178

to pay compensation for at least 20 years into the future. However, it is right that we should be vigilant, and we and the PPF continue to monitor its position.

Despite the welcome news that the recovery has begun and that the UK is no longer in recession, we know that employers sponsoring defined-benefit pension schemes will continue to experience insolvency events, and the PPF will continue to play a vital role in supporting pensioners in retirement.

5.45 pm

I turn to the first instrument for debate, the draft Pension Protection Fund (Pension Compensation Cap) Order 2010. A cap on the level of Pension Protection Fund compensation is applied to those scheme members who are below their scheme's normal pension age at the point immediately before the employer's insolvency event. These members are entitled to the 90 per cent level of compensation when they retire.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page