PART II: Present Governance and Regulation of British Greyhound Racing

Chapter 8

REGULATION: STATUTORY OR SELF-REGULATION?

Introduction

Greyhound racing in Britain is currently self-regulated. Regulation and governance are divided as described above - with many grey areas of inadequate delineation - between the NGRC and the BGRB, while a number of independent tracks are unlicensed for greyhound racing by the NGRC and therefore neither centrally governed nor regulated. It is an unsatisfactory situation with which few are content. This Review is a valuable opportunity to reconsider the whole structure and, in this particular section, the basic principles on which a revised system of regulation might operate.

Options

The broad options available in this sport are few, familiar and simple - though the details of implementing those options may vary and be complex. Basically, the theoretical choice is between continuing with some form of the self-regulation which currently pertains in British greyhound racing; or some version of state regulation, possibly founded on a statutory financial levy. State regulation could be based in a department of central government (though whether sport or animal welfare is not clear); could be a mixture of public and private control, as in Ireland; or could also involve local authorities (which currently operate licensing for zoos and riding establishments as well as for alcohol sales at greyhound tracks). Whichever basic path of regulation is chosen would inevitably in Britain operate within the existing legislative framework for the sport (for example, the Animal Welfare Act). That would apply with statutory regulation as for self-regulation.

Self-Regulation

Among most of our witnesses, self-regulation was strongly preferred to the statutory option. Evidence from the BGRB, the NGRC, the vets, the commercial promoters and the bookmakers - in sum by the central commercial and regulatory players in the industry - took this view. Their arguments for self-regulation are well-established and not easy to refute from any but the welfare position. Self-regulation is seen as preferable to statutory regulation because with it the industry itself 'owns' the process and therefore will, or should be, committed to its success. Self-regulation is also usually less bureaucratic and more cost-effective (probably currently true of the NGRC). It is also clear that British government is reluctant to introduce statutory regulation and would do so only if the industry were obstinately to refuse to reform itself soon.

As the BGRB wrote in its evidence: ‘self-regulation, provided it is efficient and effective, is superior in principle and practice, to imposed state regulation’. The Society of Greyhound Veterinarians agreed, stating that ‘self-regulation is the most appropriate form of governance for the greyhound industry….We would therefore suggest that the best option for the future is the continued self-regulation of the greyhound industry, but under the aegis of a new autonomous non-governmental body’. The experience of the City of London, with what many observers and clients believe to be an inflated, expensive and ineffective Financial Services Authority, is often seen as a warning example of the dangers and disadvantages of statutory regulation. These are certainly powerful arguments for self-regulation.

Statutory Regulation

However, the positive case for statutory regulation of greyhound racing was strongly presented to this Review by some welfare charities. They argue that, hitherto, self-regulation by the NGRC has been ineffective and has too often failed to achieve its regulatory objectives. They see little reason to believe that, even if better resourced, the present self-regulators would ever prove adequate to meet the major welfare challenges facing the sport. The charities are sceptical of whether an industry which they see as so dominated by racetrack operators and their commercial priorities would ever give sufficient independence and resources to the present regulators to achieve the needs and aims of high standard welfare regulation. With the ever swelling of welfare concerns - aggravated by unregulated breeding, by the growth of bookmaker demand for betting product, and by the possible disposal of a large number of greyhounds if the independent tracks close - the welfare groups expect these self-regulatory inadequacies to be further exposed in the future.

The more extreme animal welfare groups argue predictably, and often with counter-productive stridency, that the only effective solution to their concerns is that the sport should be banned. We reject that extremist view. But it is understandable that even the more moderate and well-informed welfare groups argue that, given the deficiencies of the present self-regulatory structure, only statutory regulation might guarantee to provide the necessary welfare for greyhounds.

Certainly, if the industry does not accept proposals along the lines of those made below, aimed to change the balance of power in the industry, giving the regulatory arm more independence where it is appropriate while making it duly accountable, and ensuring better animal welfare in the industry, then it would be understandable if the government should reluctantly conclude that only statutory regulation would achieve the modernisation and welfare priorities which are required in the twenty first century.

This Review, however, follows the majority of participants in greyhound racing in preferring the path of self-regulation, for all the reasons stated above. It should of course be self-regulation with the appropriate balance of independence and due accountability to the industry and its governing body. The general question which then arises is: by whom and how should such self-regulation be conducted?

Self Regulation: How Should It Work?

The simplest form of future self-regulation would be for the NGRC to continue operating as greyhound racing's regulator, preferably with more resources (and hence it would claim with more independence) than at present. The Club in its evidence presented a strongly held case for this outcome of minimal change. But most of our main witnesses, (including the vets who are deeply concerned to secure better regulation), opposed this step and this Review agrees with them. Clearly the lack of trust and support for the NGRC within the industry would make it difficult for the Club, even if better resourced, to achieve the degree of respect and regulatory authority which is required. The case against the existing Club having the necessary credibility to operate successfully the role of a future stand-alone regulator - despite its noble past and recent improvements - has therefore, on balance, been made to this Review.

One alternative form of radically revised self-regulation would be that option proposed by the promoters and already described above: for a small independent body executing limited judicial functions, with the rest of the NGRC's historic regulatory activities being henceforward transferred to and controlled by the governing Board. That impressively ambitious bid for an even stronger governing Board was not actually reflected in the Board's own evidence and, as suggested above, is not accepted by this Review.

Having in this Review supported self-regulation, but rejected the proposals put forward that it should be conducted either by the existing NGRC or according to the promoters' proposal for severely limiting the regulator's independent authority, there is a need for an alternative self-regulatory structure.

The conclusion of this Review points towards another radical option: to erase the existing regulatory and governing structures, with all their historical baggage of mutual hostility and non-cooperation; and to construct a new single and over-arching body to conduct both the self-governance and self-regulation of greyhound racing. That body should be in the main staffed by existing employees from both sides, thus retaining their experience and dedication. There is no need for a massive 'blood-letting'. Change can be achieved by re-employing experienced people in a more constructive institutional context and in an environment which should aim to bring the best out of them in their respective roles. However, some changes of senior personnel may need to be considered to free the new body from the burden of past personal hostilities.

In our discussions with witnesses, some on the welfare side, and of course the NGRC, opposed the concept of such a merger. Greyhound Voice stated emphatically that any linking of the Club to the Board would be ‘an absolute disaster for the sport in general’ - fearing that regulation and welfare would be even more than now subordinated to the commercial priorities of the Board as they believed they knew it. However, this 'disastrous' outcome can, in our view, be avoided when creating a single body responsible for both regulation and governance. It is a question of structure, composition and balance of power and accountability within the body. It should be possible to create a single body within which the regulatory arm has more authority than with its present separate, impoverished and sometimes impotent existence; and where the commercial arm, while having the great involvement and influence which it must if the industry is to prosper, is not dominant other than in the commercial aspects of the sport which are its proper concern.

Within the suggested new single structure, the regulatory arm would rightly offer due consultation with and accountability to the governing Board, but would do so with the maximum degree of independence compatible with that necessary accountability. Its independence would be reinforced by having a separate and completely independent judicial function and by the fact that the governing arm would itself be further reformed to ensure that the regulator would not be accountable to a commercial majority.

The structural and policy implications of such proposed changes are described in the following section.