Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]
Meeting date: Thursday, October 6, 2022
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Greyhound Racing, Portfolio Question Time, Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill, Point of Order, Motion without Notice, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Greyhound Racing
- Portfolio Question Time
- Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill
- Point of Order
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
I remind everyone that Parliament is still sitting, so those who are leaving the chamber and the public gallery should do so as quickly and as quietly as possible.
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-05949, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on greyhound racing in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put, and I encourage members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible.
That the Parliament notes reports that the last licensed greyhound racing track in Scotland, Shawfield Stadium, Rutherglen has not been operational since March 2020; further notes the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission’s view that there should be an end to greyhound racing at unlicensed tracks, including, it understands, the last remaining track at Thornton in Fife; acknowledges reported animal welfare concerns linked with greyhound racing, including neglect, malnutrition, doping with Class A substances, lack of adequate healthcare provision, and severe and fatal injuries; highlights the latest reported data released by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) regarding Shawfield Stadium, reporting 197 injuries and 15 deaths between 2017 and 2020; understands that there is no similar data at unlicensed tracks where there is no official regulatory body present to ensure that animal welfare standards are met, and commends campaigners and rescue organisations for their ongoing rehoming and awareness-raising work, including the Scottish SPCA, One Kind, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation, and others.12:49
I thank members who signed the motion for debate and those who have put time aside during this very busy day at Holyrood to listen and contribute. I also thank the organisations and campaigners who work tirelessly on greyhound welfare and rehoming across the United Kingdom, including Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation, OneKind, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Blue Cross and Dogs Trust. Some of those organisations are outside Parliament today with greyhounds. I invite all members and members of the public to join them after this debate.
I admit that few of my Holyrood motions garner support from all corners of the chamber. However, I was delighted to see strong cross-party support for this motion, and I look forward to hearing everyone’s contributions.
It is worth reflecting on what that level of support means. First, it means that greyhounds are a much-loved and iconic breed of dog that are loved as much for their good nature as for their speed and grace. It also shows that society’s attitudes to greyhound racing have seriously shifted.
In recent years, greyhound racing tracks around the country have closed down. Once, there were more than 20 licensed tracks in Scotland; now, with Shawfield stadium in Rutherglen having hosted no races since 2020, there are none left.
Thanks to dogged campaigners and organisations that have exposed the harms of that so-called sport, it is now impossible to ignore the brutal reality of greyhound racing. People have voted with their feet. Tracks have shut down and sites have been repurposed for housing. However, greyhound racing is still not banned in Scotland. With the de facto closure of Shawfield stadium, there may not be any operational licensed tracks left, but there still remains one unlicensed track at Thornton greyhound stadium in Fife, which operates under no obligations to meet industry welfare rules.
It will be no surprise to members that I am calling for a phased end to greyhound racing in Scotland. I am not the only one. Concerns about the levels of injuries and deaths of dogs at greyhound racing tracks across the UK have been growing, and the positions of bodies including the SSPCA, the RSPCA and Dogs Trust have now shifted decisively to back a phased ban on greyhound racing.
Those calls for a ban do not come lightly. They are evidence based, and they follow years of patient working with the industry to drive reform of welfare standards. However, the attempts at reform have, unfortunately, failed.
The Greyhound Board of Great Britain, which is the regulating body, has been required to publish injury and death statistics annually since 2017. In 2018, it introduced a “Greyhound Commitment”, which aimed to improve welfare and reduce injuries. Despite those measures, the latest data reported 197 injuries and 15 deaths between 2017 and 2020 at Shawfield stadium alone. The injuries data for Shawfield in 2020 nearly doubled.
Fundamentally, greyhounds cannot be raced against one another at 40mph around a circular track in a way that does not expose the dogs to unacceptable risks of injury and death. That is the crux of the matter, because even having a vet present at a licensed track does not remove or mitigate those risks. It is fundamentally unethical to race dogs as a spectacle for entertainment and gambling knowing that they face those unacceptable risks of injury and death.
It is clear that the current laws are inadequate and do not protect greyhounds from harm. The Animal Welfare Bill went through the Scottish Parliament in 2005, and the evidence sessions briefly focused on greyhound racing. I was a member of the committee that dealt with that bill. The committee as a whole felt that the duty of care placed on animal keepers to ensure that animals are
“protected from suffering, injury and disease”
was enough to drive better welfare for greyhounds. I agreed with that position, but, unfortunately, the Parliament was proven wrong. Welfare problems have increased, not declined, and greyhounds are being wilfully subjected to, rather than protected from, suffering and injury.
Even in the absolutely clearest cases of abuse that would breach the legal duty of care, the GBGB rules of racing are applied internally by its own disciplinary committee, with details published only four to five months after the offence. The SSPCA has found that that does not allow it enough time to gather evidence and mount a prosecution under the statutory time limits.
The risks at unregulated tracks such as Thornton are potentially even greater. Thornton is now reporting up to 30 dogs running on race nights and, as the last track standing in Scotland, it might attract trainers who previously raced greyhounds at Shawfield.
Unregulated tracks have no requirement to apply governing body rules, provide veterinary support on site or test dogs for doping. There is also the likelihood of ex-licensed track racers being sold on to race at Thornton, where they would be more prone to injury because of their age or health issues that come from a long career in racing.
Last week, Dogs Trust, the RSPCA and Blue Cross called for a phased end to greyhound racing. Reviews that those three charities have conducted have found disjointed and ineffective regulation in the greyhound sector, a lack of transparency about industry practices and concerns about the enforcement of regulatory standards.
The charities’ proposed phase-out across the UK is expected to be feasible within five years, to allow the racing industry and animal welfare organisations to carefully plan and co-ordinate the care of the many dogs that would be affected. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, which has already called for an end to unlicensed greyhound tracks, has committed to considering the joint work of the charities before coming to its own position on the future of licensed tracks.
The previous Scottish Government was right to end the exploitation of wild animals in travelling circuses when their use had dwindled away and when there were strong welfare and ethical arguments for a ban. We have reached the same point today with greyhound racing. Instead of asking whether we should ban greyhound racing, the question to ask is really this: who wants to keep it alive?
Is greyhound racing one of the biggest issues facing Scotland today, of all days? No—it is not. However, if we can spare an hour in the chamber, even in the hardest of times, to give a voice to animals who are voiceless, that speaks volumes of our compassionate values as a Parliament. With that thought, I look forward to members’ contributions.
We move to the open debate.12:57
I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing cross-party support for his motion—support from all parties is, indeed, a fine thing—to allow the debate to go ahead. I recognise all the work that he does for animal welfare and for greyhounds, in particular.
It is a pleasure to make a brief contribution, and I am happy to speak in support of the motion. I agree with the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission’s view that greyhound racing at unlicensed tracks should end, and I welcome its consideration of the situation for licensed tracks.
I was introduced to the topic by my constituent Emily Rimicans when I met her and Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation in Irvine a number of years ago. I had no real prior knowledge of the subject and, perhaps like many people, I assumed that the dogs were well looked after. On reflection, perhaps I was a little naive in thinking that running and chasing were natural behaviours and that it was therefore all right.
Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation has held weekly protests outside Scotland’s remaining greyhound track. It has been campaigning since 2017 for an end to the exploitation of greyhounds. I joined the group at a protest in Buchanan Street in Glasgow, where its placards powerfully illustrated to the many passers-by the reality of greyhound racing for the animals. I commend that organisation on its awareness-raising work.
Many of those who were protesting had rescued greyhounds, so they knew at first hand how these wonderful animals are treated by the racing industry. Greyhounds are treated like commodities—they are dumped and discarded when they are deemed no longer useful.
The reported animal welfare concerns that are linked with greyhound racing are, frankly, jaw dropping. They include neglect, malnutrition, doping with class A substances, a lack of adequate healthcare provision and severe and fatal injuries. Substances found in samples that were taken from dogs that ran at Shawfield included cocaine, amphetamine, steroids, beta-blockers and prohormones. All of them can have harmful side effects, some of which are severe.
The fact that there is no testing at Thornton, Scotland’s unlicensed track, should raise grave concerns about the level of drugs that are used there. A comprehensive internal review, which was conducted by Dogs Trust, the RSPCA and Blue Cross, highlighted serious concerns at every stage of a racing greyhound’s life, including inadequate welfare standards in kennelling and transporting of the dogs. Some of the dogs that were used in racing were kept in poor, barren conditions, with little—if any—enrichment, and they were fed a very poor diet. The review also highlighted concerns around the general health of the dogs, including the number and severity of injuries that were sustained during racing. There were also serious issues around the racing of greyhounds in extreme weather and around the number of puppies that were unaccounted for between birth and racing registrations, which the sector often refers to as “wastage”.
Greyhound racing is inherently dangerous for the dogs that are involved. Running at speed around oval tracks causes significant injury to many dogs and, in some cases, the injuries are so severe that it is necessary to euthanise the dogs. The Greyhound Board of Great Britain is a self-regulating organisation that covers licensed greyhound racing in Great Britain. In my opinion, one death of an animal for the so-called entertainment of humans is too many, but the latest reported data that was released by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain concludes that there were more than 1,000 deaths at its tracks in the five years between 2017 and 2021. There is no similar data for unlicensed tracks, where no official regulatory body is present to ensure that animal welfare standards are met.
I commend all the campaigners and rescue organisations for their on-going rehoming and awareness-raising work. When I am out walking my dog, Rudi, she particularly enjoys meeting greyhounds on the beach and always makes a valiant attempt at racing them. She is a miniature dachshund, so “valiant” is putting it lightly.
I will close by mentioning again all the people who rehome these wonderful dogs and give them the life and love that they deserve.
Thank you, Ms Maguire. I am sure that my sister will graciously accept those plaudits.13:02
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on the future of greyhound racing in Scotland, and I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing the motion before the chamber.
Dogs, in all shapes and sizes, are loving members of our families, not only in Scotland, but across the globe, so protecting their safety and overall welfare is vital.
It is clear that greyhound racing in Scotland has been in decline for years. As the dog-racing industry boomed across the west of Scotland throughout the early to mid-20th century, thousands of Scots flocked to packed stadiums each week to spectate at the races under the floodlights. It became a core leisure activity for many communities across the country, because it offered escapism, a night out with friends and the chance to win some money.
However, that was then, and this is now. Today, since the popularity of greyhound racing has faded, as we have heard, only two tracks remain. One of them is Shawfield stadium, in my parliamentary region, and the other, which is what is known as a flapper track, is at Thornton, where regulations are pretty loose.
In collaboration with animal welfare charities across the country, I acknowledge the positive work that is undertaken by people in the industry, such as the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, to improve conditions for racing dogs. However, despite those efforts, glaring issues remain—in particular, the scope and robustness of the regulation that is in place to protect the welfare of dogs on and off the track. Data shows that, from 2017 to the present, more than 22,000 injuries to racing dogs have been recorded in the UK. That is a staggering number. Like many people, I have seen at first hand the awful injuries that these graceful dogs have suffered, including limbs that are so badly injured that vets are left with no option but to amputate. Heartbreakingly, over the same period, at least 1,000 dogs lost their lives through racing.
With the industry in decline, leading animal welfare groups, such as Blue Cross and Dogs Trust, have called for a phased end to greyhound racing in Scotland and the UK. As we discuss whether the industry has a future in 21st century Scotland, we cannot lose sight of the important matters that need to be considered—not least how to support the livelihoods of people who are engaged in the sector.
However, one thing is clear: the safety and welfare of greyhounds are paramount. On that note, I pay tribute to the fantastic work that Scotland’s rescue centres do in caring for and rehoming retired racing dogs. Dedicated volunteers across the country play a vital role in safeguarding the welfare of thousands of retired greyhounds, many of which have spent years on the race track. I know this at first hand because a member of my parliamentary staff adopted a particularly cheeky and playful greyhound named Todd, who, when he stands on his back legs, is way taller than I am. Most dogs are—even Ruth Maguire’s dachshund would probably be taller than me. Todd quickly became a much-loved and cherished part of the family.
As I bring my remarks to a close, I appeal to people who are considering getting a pet. By adopting a greyhound, not only would they be bringing a special and gentle dog into their family, but they would be giving a retired greyhound a home—a place where the dog will be loved and cared for, not because of how fast it can run, but for who it is. [Applause.]
I know that this is an issue about which people feel passionately, but I encourage people in the public gallery not to participate, which includes clapping. Thank you.13:06
I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the debate. I am aware that much of my contribution might repeat what others have said, but I do not care.
I thank OneKind, Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for their briefings. They all support a complete ban on greyhound racing in Scotland.
Yesterday, in discussion about the debate with another member, I was asked whether I have ever attended a greyhound racing meeting. In fact, I have, although it was many moons ago. It was at Powderhall stadium in Edinburgh, which has long since been demolished and redeveloped for housing. The floodlights gave it glamour; the dogs charged out after the rabbit decoy and it was all very exciting. However, that was a long time ago and life, times and the way in which we look at the value and worth of our animals have moved on. These days, we are aware of the toll that racing takes on the dogs, and not all owners and tracks put the welfare of the dogs at the centre. Despite the work of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, too many dogs have been drugged, injured or put down. As has been mentioned, there are particular concerns about unlicensed tracks.
The cross-party group on animal welfare, which I chair, has had the chief executive of the GBGB before it, and the issue of welfare of greyhounds was raised with him. Although he appeared genuinely to want to tighten up on the welfare of greyhounds, there are still too many deaths and injuries. I have read the GBGB 2022 strategy. It claims that greyhound racing is “a welfare-centric sport”, and talks about a “long-term strategy” for the dogs, a “lifelong commitment” to their wellbeing and maximisation of rehoming. However, it is too late and out of time.
The GBGB reported that across the UK, between 2017 and 2020, more than 1,000 dogs died or were euthanised and there were 1,800 injuries. As others have said, at Shawfield, which is the only Scottish licensed track, during the same period there were 197 injuries and 15 deaths. That is too many injuries and too many deaths. There should not have been any.
According to the GBGB, in 2021, in excess of 18,000 licensed greyhounds were eligible for its licensed tracks, with additional greyhound racing on so-called independent tracks, for which there are no recorded figures. I think that many people who are listening to this debate will be surprised—to put it mildly—that there are unlicensed tracks. The only one in Scotland is in Thornton in Fife. It is unregulated and there is no record of veterinary facilities at the site. Incidentally, the only available data that I could dig out for Thornton race track is from the owner, who commented that only one in 10 dogs is injured. That is a 10 per cent injury rate, so the use of the word “only” is hardly appropriate. In addition to the injuries, there is evidence of doping, poor welfare conditions and there being no vet in attendance.
As for a dog’s destiny at the end of its career—if I can use the word “career”—it can be varied. According to the GBGB, some are unsuitable for rehoming and are euthanised—which means that they are put to death. Others might be rehomed. I have seen a few round Holyrood park, so somebody must be organising rehoming here, which I commend.
I also once saw for myself, when driving down the A7 just past Gorebridge, a confused and terrified greyhound loose at the side of the road. I reported it to the SSPCA, as did others who had seen it. My hunch was that it had been dumped and left to its fate, either to be killed by a car or, perhaps, to be lucky enough to be reported by someone. Leaving it there was callous and indefensible behaviour.
Once greyhound racing was a working man’s sport that was favoured particularly in mining communities, but we have moved on in respect of the way that we view animals. We have regard for their sentience, therefore we have a deeper responsibility for our demands on them—as pets, or for so-called sport or entertainment. I therefore support the banning of greyhound racing in Scotland, but in a phased manner, with the caveat that we must protect the animals that are already being bred or used for racing, so that they are given better lives.
Again, I commend the member for bringing the debate to the chamber. I hope that the Scottish Welfare Commission moves a step further and bans not just unlicensed tracks, but the one remaining licensed track, which fortunately, for the time being, is de facto not in use. Presiding Officer, you have been very tolerant.13:10
I am pleased to be speaking in today’s important debate and I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing it to the chamber. Like Christine Grahame, I will not apologise for repeating some things that have already been said, because they are so important.
I am not going to mince my words: greyhound racing is barbaric. It is the exploitation of beautiful dogs purely to make money, and I absolutely abhor it. Animals are not products or commodities to be used for human entertainment. How anyone can find terrified dogs racing round a track entertaining is beyond me.
At least 1,026 deaths were recorded at tracks by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain in the past five years. Nearly 18,000 injuries were recorded in the UK between 2018 and 2021. The board reported that, during that period, 197 injuries were reported at Shawfield stadium in Glasgow, with 15 deaths. It is absolutely sickening. Thankfully, Shawfield stadium has not reopened since March 2020.
As we have heard, there is one track left in Scotland, at Thornton in Fife, which is unlicensed and therefore completely unregulated. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission has stated that it recommends that Thornton be closed immediately. I sincerely hope that it is. We will never know how many animals will die or are injured and suffering at that facility, and it should close immediately.
Animal welfare charities such as Blue Cross, the SSPCA and Dogs Trust have for years tried to work with the governing bodies on the welfare of greyhounds, including on what happens when their racing days end. Now they have had enough. They want the so-called sport of greyhound racing to be banned. Great work by campaigners has highlighted serious welfare concerns for racing greyhounds, including a restrictive existence, a culture of drugging dogs, a poor diet and an uncertain fate—which is often euthanasia, once their “career” is over.
These beautiful gentle dogs spend most of their time in often dank and dirty kennels, and suffer from untreated wounds and injuries. They can also be constantly muzzled, which is unbearably stressful for them. There are also serious issues around racing of greyhounds in extreme weather. During this year’s hot summer, dogs have been forced to race in 32°C heat. That is downright cruelty.
Incredibly, the number of puppies that are unaccounted for between birth and racing registration are often referred to by the sector as “the wastage”. That is sickening. Dogs are not being regarded as sentient beings; they are merely “wastage”.
The Greyhound Board of Great Britain has been required to publish the data on deaths and injuries only since 2017, so I fear that the figures that have been released are just the tip of the iceberg. There is no independent validation of the data. The figures could be—in my opinion, they are likely to be—even higher.
Internal policy reviews that have been conducted by Dogs Trust, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Blue Cross found disjointed and ineffective regulation of the sector, a lack of transparency regarding industry practices, and concerns around enforcement of regulatory standards.
There is no doubt that a culture of drugging dogs to enhance or impair performance—in effect, to rig races—is widespread. Substances that have been found in samples that were taken from dogs running at Shawfield include cocaine, amphetamines, steroids, beta blockers and prohormones. All those can have harmful side effects, some of which are severe, and all lead to the extreme suffering of dogs.
In addition, the fate of dogs, once their career is over, is unknown. However, I have seen quite horrific pictures of decapitated greyhounds lying in a ditch.
I hope that we are seeing the beginning of the end for greyhound racing in Scotland. The abuse of these beautiful and gentle dogs must end now. Like others, I thank for their determined and great efforts local campaign groups including one in my Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency, Blue Cross, the Scottish SPCA, Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation, the RSPCA, OneKind, the League Against Cruel Sports and others, for their tireless campaigning to stop this barbaric practice.13:15
I begin by declaring an interest as a member of the League Against Cruel Sports.
I thank Mark Ruskell for lodging his timely motion on ending greyhound racing in Scotland. I say “timely”, but the reality is that a ban on greyhound racing in Scotland is long overdue.
I do not believe that all those who have gone to a greyhound track over the years, had a bet on a race or even trained or raced greyhounds do not care about the dogs who are racing. Of course, many of them do care, but the reality is that racing a dog around an oval track at speeds in excess of 40mph, with the inevitable collisions and accidents with other dogs, rails and advertising boards, is undeniably cruel.
What little is left of this largely unregulated so-called sport in Scotland is rife with not just injuries and deaths but the drugging of dogs and the casting aside of greyhounds when they are no longer deemed fit to race and therefore have no economic value. All of that is overseen by an industry that has consistently failed to bring about meaningful improvements. Its time is up and so, too, is greyhound racing. It is time to phase it out; it is time for a ban.
I know that some people will argue that, with just two tracks in Scotland—Shawfield, which has not opened since 2020, and the unregulated, unlicensed Thornton—greyhound racing is in decline and will soon come to a natural end. That might be true, but how many more injuries, how many more deaths and how much more cruelty will there be before that happens?
Although the Greyhound Board of Great Britain has had to publish data only since 2017, we know that at least 22,767 injuries and 1,206 deaths have been reported at registered greyhound tracks across the UK up to 2020. There were dozens at Shawfield before it closed, even though it operated just one night per week, and we do not know how many there were at Thornton because it is not required to record or publish that most basic data or even to have a vet present at a race.
There is also no requirement for any drug testing at Thornton, but we know that, even with drug testing taking place at 2 per cent of races at Shawfield before racing was halted, there were 13 positive cases from 2018 to 2019 alone. Those involved steroids, beta blockers, prohormones and, shockingly, in five cases, cocaine. Despite that, no criminal proceedings appear to have been pursued for drugging, abuse cases, injuries or deaths at Shawfield. It is clear that regulation simply does not work.
What about after the racing has stopped? That, too, is unregulated, often unknown and certainly unacceptable. The GBGB does not share microchip records, which would allow individual dogs to be traced, but we know that 668 of the dog deaths from 2017 to 2019 were of dogs who were killed due to the cost of treatment to rehabilitate them following an injury.
However, thankfully, many dogs find new homes due to the outstanding work of many charities. In my South Scotland region, there was a greyhound track at Gretna until 2017. It is no coincidence that, in 2001, Dumfriesshire Greyhound Rescue, which now also covers Cumbria, was founded by Graham and Margaret Hill to rehome retired racing greyhounds. The Gretna track might have gone, but their outstanding work in rehoming those animals continues. Twenty years on, they have rehomed more than 1,860 dogs and have provided continuous care for up to 15 dogs at a time as they look for new homes. We owe them and all the charities that pick up the pieces of greyhound racing a real debt of gratitude.
I also thank those who have—over many years, often in dark times when no one appeared to be listening—been vocal in their support of a ban on greyhound racing. They include my constituent Gill Don, from the abolish all greyhound racing campaign, who has raised the issue with me almost from the day I was elected, and Gill Docherty and Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation, whose petition to Parliament is slowly but surely making progress. It has been signed by more than 13,000 people, making it the fifth most-signed petition in Parliament’s history.
In calling for a ban, charities such as OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports have now been joined, significantly, by the RSPCA, the SSPCA, the Dogs Trust and Blue Cross, which spent years trying to work with the industry to bring about improvements but have now simply lost patience. As we have heard, the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission has already backed an end to unlicensed tracks, and I have no doubt that it will soon back an end to licensed tracks.
It is time for the Scottish Government to follow those organisations, listen to public opinion and make it clear that it will introduce legislation to end this cruelty and phase out greyhound racing once and for all. I can give the minister this assurance: she need not worry about doing that, because charities such as Dumfriesshire and Cumbria Greyhound Rescue, the SSPCA and many others will ensure that the dogs that are left find good, loving homes to enjoy in their retirement, free from abuse and cruelty.13:20
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I thank Mark Ruskell for securing it. I am also happy to support his motion. I associate myself with his comments, and I thank all the groups that he has mentioned for the action that they have taken.
Greyhound racing is legal in just seven countries in the world. As many speakers have mentioned, only two tracks now remain in Scotland: Shawfield, in Rutherglen, which has not been operational since 2020; and Thornton, in Fife. Colin Smyth has just mentioned Halcrow stadium in Gretna, which is in my South Scotland region. It closed in 2018, and housing has since been built on the site.
The number of greyhounds intended for racing is currently at its lowest in Scotland and, as the Scottish SPCA has highlighted, if implemented in a phased manner, with full communication with all involved, a ban at this time would place the smallest possible burden on rescue organisations in relation to ensuring that all dogs currently racing can be rehomed responsibly.
Ultimately, I agree that we need legislative change to ban racing in our country in order to tackle the high number of injuries, deaths and positive drug tests that are reported in the industry and to reflect the lack of public support for this unsavoury use of animals for human entertainment and gambling profit.
The regulatory body for greyhound racing, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, has been required to publish injury and death statistics since 2017. In 2018, the board introduced a greyhound commitment, with the aim of improving welfare and reducing injuries. Despite that, according to the board’s injury retirement data for 2018, across the UK, just short of 5,000 dogs were injured—an increase on the previous year. The figures also state that more than 2,000 dogs died or were killed in the racing industry in 2018-19. The GBGB also reported nine positive drug tests in dogs at Shawfield in 2018 alone, as reported in various issues of its Calendar publication. Information that is published by the GBGB demonstrates that there continued to be positive drug tests with class A drugs in 2019. Those tests show that dogs were drugged with cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs, as Ruth Maguire and Rona Mackay have described. In reality, the rates of drugging are likely to be much higher, as only about 3 per cent of dogs who are running are tested.
There have been 119 entries and 15 deaths at Shawfield alone. As the Scottish SPCA reports, we do not have the numbers for the unlicensed Thornton track. Those numbers speak volumes and demonstrate the need for a ban.
Anyone who has a greyhound will know that they love comfort and attention. As a dog owner, and as a proponent of dog-friendly policies, I know how much love our four-legged companions bring. As Colin Smyth described, great rehoming work is being done by Dumfriesshire and Cumbria Greyhound Rescue, which has a shop in Lockerbie. I commended it for its rehoming work.
It is absolutely not right that those dogs are forced to run in a practice that is simply for human entertainment and monetary gain, and I absolutely agree that there must be a ban. A Scottish animal welfare charity, the Scottish SPCA, has reported that greyhound racing is a significant animal welfare issue, and one that needs to be stopped.
The question is not whether there should be a ban but when the ban should happen. Again, I thank Mark Ruskell for his motion.13:24
I begin the Government’s response to the debate, which I thank Mark Ruskell for introducing and members for taking part in, by being very clear that greyhounds are intelligent, affectionate and gentle animals, that the mistreatment of animals in Scotland is completely unacceptable and that we expect people who are found guilty of mistreatment to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
The Scottish Government is committed to the highest standard of animal welfare, and we welcome views from stakeholders such as the Scottish SPCA, Dogs Trust, OneKind and others who have recently contributed to discussions. We work closely with those organisations and, as Mr Ruskell does in his motion and members across the chamber have done, I give the Government’s thanks to those organisation, campaigners and rescue groups for their work campaigning for and rehoming greyhounds.
Like many other people, I am very concerned by the reports detailing injuries and deaths, particularly at Shawfield between 2017 and 2020. The Scottish Government takes those figures very seriously, as well as any other unnecessary injury or welfare concerns that are caused for any animal as a result of human activity, or for entertainment, as a number of members have reflected on.
Against the backdrop of those shocking figures, we note the reported permanent closure of Shawfield stadium, having not reopened following the suspension of race meetings due to the pandemic. As members have reflected on, that leaves only one unlicensed track, in Fife. Despite only one track remaining, the Scottish Government appreciates the depth of feeling that is associated with the sport, and recognises the considerations that have been undertaken as part of public petition PE1758.
In the time that I have today, I will cover the law as it stands before looking to the future and actions that could be taken on the matter. The provisions that are included in the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, as amended, ensure that action can be taken where there is evidence that the welfare needs of greyhounds, whether still racing or retired, are not being met.
The minister says that legislation is already in place. Whose responsibility is it to enforce that?
The member raises an important part about enforcement, which I will come on to, if he does not mind waiting.
I was about to point out that part 2 of the act applies to all persons who are responsible for animals, which in this case includes the breeders, trainers and owners of racing greyhounds. We recently moved to amend the 2006 act with the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, which means that people who are found guilty of offences can now face up to five years in prison and unlimited fines. Those recent changes are part of the Government’s unwavering conviction that the mistreatment of animals in Scotland is completely unacceptable. As I said in my opening remarks, we expect that those found guilty will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
It is obvious that the 2006 act has been highly effective in some areas of welfare reform—in ensuring that the welfare of animals is protected and that adequate prosecutions have been brought through—but does the minister believe that there are particular problems with the application of the act to greyhound racing, and that it has not been effective in driving the reforms that we all want to see?
That intervention, like the previous one, is important. It is a point about the enforcement of the law as it stands. The Scottish Government’s position is that the 2006 act, as it stands, is sufficient, but we are interested in how enforcement, particularly in the case of greyhound racing, can be improved.
The Government has taken significant steps to protect and promote the welfare of all dogs, including via those stronger penalties. In addition, following the granting of legislative consent for the relevant parts of the United Kingdom Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, we will continue to work with the other UK Administrations on proposals to tackle the illegal puppy trade, including restricting the number of puppies that can be imported in one vehicle, and preventing the importation of puppies under six months old, heavily pregnant female dogs and dogs that have had their ears cropped or have been subject to other mutilations that would be illegal in the UK.
If those proposals are brought to fruition, they will benefit the lives of thousands of dogs, including puppies that are bred and reared for the greyhound racing industry, in which a large proportion of the greyhounds that are racing in Britain have been bred elsewhere and transported into the country. The Government is directing time and resources to actions that we think can have the widest possible impact on the largest possible number of dogs.
That work is being led largely by my colleague Mairi Gougeon, but it also sits alongside work that I am leading on the protection of wildlife, including ending the chasing and killing of foxes and wild mammals by dogs, reforming grouse moor management, banning glue traps, considering the future of snaring, and reviewing the powers of the Scottish SPCA. The Government is taking all that work forward right now.
That is as it stands, but I will return to the issue at hand. Despite the Scottish Government having a robust legislative framework in place and, as ever, pursuing more impactful change, we recognise that authorities face challenges with enforcement when they collect data and evidence, particularly from unlicensed greyhound racing premises. We know that there is concern regarding suspected instances of malpractice, including doping and a lack of veterinary care, as members have indicated. We are committed to continuing to work with enforcement authorities including the Scottish SPCA and other stakeholders to ensure that the enforcement of our robust laws is operating as it needs to be. In that regard, I encourage anyone who is concerned about the welfare of any animal to report their concerns to local authorities.
Will the member take an intervention?
I am a bit short of time, Presiding Officer.
I will give you the time back.
I will be brief. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, which has been tasked by the Government with dealing with all these issues, has said that it wants a ban on greyhound racing at unlicensed tracks. Does the minister have any timeline for when it might come out with a view on licensed tracks and, therefore, an outright ban?
I would not want to pre-empt the work of the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission. From the Government’s point of view, all I can say is that we look forward to hearing its comments, as we look forward to hearing the comments of the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee, and we will take all that into consideration.
In closing, I will look specifically at what we can do right now to improve the situation in greyhound racing, which has much declined in Scotland but is still very concerning. I clarify that the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission’s letter of 23 May to the Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee did not call for an outright ban on greyhound racing. Rather, the letter stated that the commission
“does not support the continuation of unlicensed .. . tracks in Scotland.”
The commission considered that, if greyhound racing was to continue, it should be conducted “under specific regulations” to protect the health and welfare of dogs. As I said to Christine Grahame, we will carefully consider recommendations that have been made by the commission and by the RAINE Committee.
However, members will be aware of the programme for government’s commitment to consult stakeholders on extending licensing legislation to animal care services, which could include dog training, walking and grooming services. Government officials have already begun the preliminary stages of that work, which in substance will be taken forward at the earliest opportunity. My colleague Mairi Gougeon, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, is leading on that work, but I am very pleased to be able to confirm that, while we await the views of SAWC and the opinions of the rural affairs committee, we will include the activities of the greyhound industry in that consultation on licensing.
Despite the greyhound racing industry’s decline in Scotland, we are clear that animal welfare is paramount and must be upheld. Cruelty to animals, whether they are domesticated or wild, has no place in modern Scotland.13:33 Meeting suspended.
14:00 On resuming—