Spotlight falls on reducing fatalities as government backs BHA in debate

The government has rejected calls for a new independent body to take over the regulation of racehorse welfare but said that the spotlight should remain on reducing equine fatalities.

The issue was the subject of a debate in Westminster Hall on Monday in response to an e-petition which received 105,000 signatures calling for the BHA to be stripped of its welfare role in Britain.

David Rutley, the minister with responsibility for animal welfare at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told MPs: "We must do all that we can to reduce the fatalities whilst racing on the track."

He said the government welcomed the work of the BHA adding: "With the work they have done to further reduce the number of fatalities at racetracks the government does not see a need to take a different approach by creating a new body.

"That does not mean that the BHA should not continue to be held to account and they should of course have to continue to explain what they do in an open and transparent way."

Rutley said welfare would continue to be at the head of the agenda and said he was looking forward to discussing the BHA's review of the equine fatalities at this year's Cheltenham Festival with the governing body.

He added: "While the government may not agree with those who signed the petition on the need for a new body I hope we can all agree more can and should be done to work collaboratively to keep the spotlight on reducing fatalities and improving the welfare of racehorses."

Labour's spokesman Luke Pollard said British horseracing is a "national success story".

However, he added: "We want it to work harder, faster and smarter to improve equine welfare and set transparent targets that can be independently verified.

"If Labour was in government . . . I would be demanding a greater set of targets for the industry looking at how we can set out how horse deaths involved with horseracing can be reduced."

BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: "We are pleased that government has today reaffirmed its support for the BHA as racing’s independent regulator for equine welfare.

"Our track record of working responsibly to make racing safer for our horses – and our constructive relationship with welfare groups such as the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare – was fully acknowledged.

"All those who spoke were united with us in a desire to see further improvements. We share the ambitions expressed by MPs from all parties to make racing even safer.

"We encourage all those working in our sport to improve welfare standards to read carefully the contributions to the debate as we develop more ambitious plans for the future."