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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I draw attention to a problem that arises constantly between me and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), to whom I have given notice of my point of order. The hon. Gentleman constantly invents phrases and attributes them to me. On this occasion, I point to the Hansard of the Scottish Grand Committee of--

Madam Speaker: Order. Political knockabouts that take place in the Scottish Grand Committee are not points of order; to raise them as such is an abuse of the House. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) should raise them at the time and not now.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford): On a point of order, Madam Speaker, concerning remarks made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) during the education debate last Wednesday. I have given notice of my intention to raise a point of order to the hon. Member for Brightside, and to the shadow apprentice, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle).

In column 1037 of Hansard , the hon. Member for Brightside claimed during the education debate last week that Kent county council had spent £9 million on a nursery voucher experiment. I have checked that, and it is not true.

Madam Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair; it is a political argument. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) might have done me the courtesy of letting me know in advance. If he will come to his point of order to me, I will try to deal with it. He might have made some indication to me, so that I might also see Hansard .

Mr. Dunn: Madam Speaker, I am very sorry that you were not told about the point of order--it is my fault entirely. I am making a charge against the hon. Member for Brightside that he misled the House with a statement which was untrue. While I was debating the matter today on Radio Kent, I received a message that the hon. Member for Brightside had acknowledged that the statement was untrue.

Madam Speaker: What is the point of order for me, please?

Mr. Dunn: I am about to get to it, Madam Speaker. I am taking my time, to make sure that you have the full facts before you.

Madam Speaker: Order. If I had the full facts, I would be able to respond to the hon. Member. He might have done me the courtesy of giving me the full facts to start with.

Mr. Dunn: Madam Speaker, as you know, I have already apologised for not giving you the full facts.

The hon. Member for Brightside has acknowledged that the statement that he made was misleading and untrue. I think it is essential that he should come to the Chamber and apologise to you and to the House for misleading us last Wednesday.

Madam Speaker: I will look at Hansard . Far too often, hon. Members raise points of order that are not points of

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order but are questions of political cut and thrust and debate across the Floor of the House. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have the opportunity to correct these issues by means of the Order Paper and in debate.

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South): I entirely understand the grounds on which you refused my private notice question, Madam Speaker, but I hope that you will allow me the licence to remark that, the next time a Secretary of State closes a hospital that is nearly 900 years old, he or she will have the moral courage to come to the Dispatch Box.

Sir John Gorst (Hendon, North): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The next time that a Secretary of State wishes to close another hospital in my constituency, I hope that a similar courtesy will be offered, so that I may be given an opportunity to vote against it.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker: Order. I must deal with those two points of order. The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) was a Secretary of State for many years, and therefore is probably not aware that we do not mention applications that are made to me about such matters. However, I understand his strength of feeling.

May I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir J. Gorst) that there is an Adjournment motion tomorrow morning, when hon. Members will have three hours during which they may raise such issues? If hon. Members are in their place at that time, I might look their way. Who knows?

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield): I seek your advice on access to information to deal with constituency issues. For some months now, hon. Members on both sides of the House have been inquiring about the blood transfusion service, in particular the closure programme at Lancaster.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and I have found out that our telephone calls about these matters are being monitored by the management of the blood transfusion service, and, as part of that procedure is to prevent us from discussing matters with the staff at the centre, I find it an abuse of hon. Members' access to deal with constituency matters. I ask you what we need to do to ensure that that monitoring is stopped immediately.

Madam Speaker: There may well be a question of privilege involved in that. Will the hon. Gentleman please write to me without delay?

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): What protection do hon. Members have from the provision of bogus statistics and information such as that provided by the Lib-Lab Kent county council to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett)?

Madam Speaker: I hope that they will exercise their minds about these matters and determine for themselves what are the true statistics.

Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East): I wish to raise a point of order of which I have given notice, both to yourself, Madam Speaker--although briefly and without a copy of Hansard , for which I apologise--and

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to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). It arises from the debate last Wednesday on education. I was present at the opening of the debate and, indeed, for the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I had left by the time the incident that I am about to raise had taken place, because I had gone to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

After I had left, the hon. Member for Brightside, in an intervention, purported to describe a letter that I had written to a constituent, saying that it attacked Tory-controlled Buckinghamshire. That was a misrepresentation of the contents of the letter, but I appreciate that you will not take that point. My point is that, yet again, the hon. Gentleman did not do me the courtesy of informing me that he was going to raise the matter. He had the letter with him--translated, I believe, into braille, for obvious reasons. He was clearly prepared to use it, and intended so to do.

Madam Speaker, you repeatedly rule that hon. Members should observe common courtesy among themselves; you are repeatedly ignored. Is there anything that you can do about it?

Madam Speaker: I have no authority to enforce it. I simply ask hon. Members to abide by common courtesies. Far too many hon. Members do not do so.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey): Following that, and having heard your answers to colleagues earlier, Madam Speaker, I raise a more general point of order about statements and answers. I know that you cannot determine what Ministers do, but surely there must be some control of Ministers who make statements about a minor variation in policy, and yet do not make any statements about the conclusion of an assessment of policy- -the health service reforms in London. The assessment of that policy was introduced by a statement, but the decisions were announced by way of a written answer, not a statement.

I have no chance, as the Member of Parliament representing Guy's hospital-- and nor have the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr.

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Brooke), representing Bart's, and the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir J. Gorst)--to ask any questions; and the whole process began with a statement in the House.

I am merely asking you, Madam Speaker, to find out whether rules exist to determine what matters are so important that they must be brought to the House. Otherwise, war could be declared by means of a written answer and peace by means of a statement, and we would have no chance to ask about the former--only a chance to say, "Thank you very much," when we are told the latter.

Madam Speaker: I well understand hon. Members' frustration, but there are no rules that I can consult. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, and others, will put the matter to the Procedure Committee. I entirely accept that there are occasions when it is very important for a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box so that hon. Members can question him. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind the fact that there is an Adjournment debate tomorrow morning, but I make no promises. Let us leave it at that for the moment.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has spent £41.5 million on building an almost completely new hospital to serve my constituents. I am extremely disappointed that she is not here today, so that I can congratulate her personally.

Madam Speaker: That is a total abuse of the House. I should have thought that hon. Members--however new they were in 1992--would be accustomed to our procedures now, and would not continue to abuse the House and its procedures.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker: No, I am going to move on now. I have taken enough points of order.

Mr. Gallie rose --

Madam Speaker: I have already taken a point of order from the hon. Gentleman. He must resume his seat.

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3.41 pm

Mr. Jim Callaghan (Heywood and Middleton): I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ban the sport of boxing.

As a young sports teacher many years ago, I always had doubts about the merits of boxing, having seen the state of a former Manchester world champion; but it was when I saw the plight of Muhammud Ali that I became totally convinced of the terrible tragedies and hazards connected with professional boxing. He was and is known as "the greatest", but in my view he is the greatest advertisement for the necessity of an independent Government inquiry to investigate the safety of boxing.

It is said that Ali has Parkinson's disease, and that his condition is not due to boxing, but my videos of his latest fight suggest otherwise. I have with me an Evening Standard report that claims that he received 29,000 blows to the head. I do not know whether that is an exaggeration, but I do know that he took one blow too many. Given the medical condition of another professional boxer, Michael Watson, following a contest between him and Chris Eubank, I asked the Minister responsible for sport for his views and intentions regarding the dangers of professional boxing. On 23 June 1993, I asked the Secretary of State for National Heritage whether he had received a copy of the British Medical Association's book, "The Boxing Debate", which reported in detail the medical risks associated with boxing, and whether he intended to set up an independent inquiry. I also asked the Prime Minister, during Prime Minister's questions, if he would ban boxing. The answer has always been the same.

On 10 May 1994, I succeeded in obtaining an Adjournment Debate on brain injuries in boxing. I based my speech on the BMA's book. The BMA wants boxing to be banned, and in 1982 it declared:

"in view of the proven ocular and brain damage resulting from professional boxing the BMA should campaign for its abolition." In 1987, the BMA stated:

"In view of the continuing serious ill effects on the health of boxers the BMA should pursue the Government with renewed vigour until there is a ban on boxing."

In 1992, it again called for a ban on boxing, and in 1993, it produced its book "The Boxing Debate", which states that the heaviest blows may represent as much as half a tonne--which is like being hit by a 12 lb padded wooden mallet travelling at 20 mph. That is enough force and velocity to injure any brain.

The report says that there are two main ways in which boxing may lead to structural damage to the brain. The first type of damage occurs as an acute episode, in which one or more severe blows during a single fight lead to a loss of consciousness and, occasionally, to death. Death in the ring, or in the days or weeks following the contest is usually attributed to acute haemorrhage of the brain. The second kind of damage tends to develop over a much longer period and is cumulative. It is associated with chronic neurological disorders that are often experienced by boxers. Damage to the eye and brain occurs in both amateur and professional boxers, although it is doubtful whether participants or others involved in boxing fully appreciate the risks, especially the dangers of delayed, cumulative brain damage.

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Damage can be detected only after it has occurred, and by then it may be too late. It has been too late for 361 boxers whose deaths have been recorded worldwide since 1945. In the United Kingdom, it has been too late for the following boxers. In 1969, Ulrich Regis died after fighting Joe Bugner. In 1979, Angelo Jacopucci died after fighting Alan Minter. In 1980, Johnny Owen, aged 24, died after fighting Lupe Pintor. In 1982, Young Ali died after fighting Barry McGuigan. In 1986, Steve Watt died after fighting Rocky Kelly. In 1987, Joe Sticklen died in his first fight. In 1988, Brian Baronet died fighting Kenny Vice. In 1989, Rod Douglas had to have brain surgery; he will never fight again.

In 1989, Roy Hodgson died. In 1991, Michael Watson fought Eubank. We know that Michael Watson is in a wheelchair, having had brain surgery. In 1994, Bradley Stone, aged 23, died. In 1994, Michael Bentt went into hospital after fighting Herbie Hide. He will not fight again. In 1995, we had the most recent case, involving the McClellan v. Nigel Benn contest. Three amateurs, one in Liverpool, one in London and one in Margate, have all had brain surgery. From those statistics alone, it can be said that prevention is better than cure, particularly when the disease in question is incurable. The virility, or any other virtue, shown by one man hitting another on the head in a boxing ring cannot transform the act into an accident. The blows are intended. Hitting one another is deliberate. That point, no matter how trite, distinguishes boxing from all other sports. The prime intention is to knock out one's opponent before he has a chance to inflict a knock-out blow on the other boxer.

Before his recent fight, Gerald McClellan said:

"You have to go to war and in war you have to be prepared to die."

That is what boxing is. We all know that Gerald got his war, and that, tragically, he paid the price in his savage bout with Nigel Benn. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members in the House today in saying that we all wish him well now that he has survived a life-threatening injury and been flown back to the United States of America to be with his family. I doubt whether he will fight again. I am sure that the House will also want to send its full appreciation to Mr. John Sutcliffe, the neurosurgeon who operated so successfully on Gerald McClellan. He has saved his life. Although it may surprise hon. Members, I also give credit to the British Boxing Board of Control, which has made important safety improvements in boxing since learning the lessons from the Watson-Eubank fight. Perhaps it read the suggestions I made in my Adjournment debate on 10 May 1994. It had four doctors, paramedics and ambulances at the McClellan-Benn fight. The speed with which oxygen was administered to the stricken boxer saved his life.

Despite all those necessary reforms, further calamities will occur. I was deeply concerned when, after the Gerald McClellan fight, I read in the press that many 11-year-old children were getting ready for their first bouts. The "kid gloves" scheme at Croxteth community school has put boxing back in schools. The Minister with responsibility for sport has confirmed that the school is receiving financial support from the Sports Council and Sportsmatch. From a recent parliamentary question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), a neurosurgeon, we learned that Sportsmatch

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contributed £5,000 to the scheme. It is ludicrous for the Minister to argue that the scheme involves a "non- contact" form of boxing, and that its purpose is to teach children the skills and discipline of boxing without hitting an opponent. How ridiculous.

Over a number of years, I have asked various Ministers to initiate an independent inquiry into the health risks associated with boxing, all of which have been highlighted by the BMA in its various reports on boxing.

I have been told that the Government did not believe that the risks associated with boxing were sufficient to justify such an inquiry. I deeply regret the Government's negative attitude towards such requests, because I firmly believe that a public inquiry could prevent serious injuries, and even death, for some boxers. I still believe that an independent inquiry is necessary because we have reached an impasse, with the British Medical Association on one side of the argument about safety in boxing and the British Boxing Board of Control on the other, with the Minister responsible for sport in the middle, not doing anything. Because of that impasse, I believe that there is no alternative but to ban boxing before further calamities occur in the boxing ring.

As one famous boxer recently said:

"Boxing damages your brain. Don't let anyone tell you different."

Accordingly, I urge the House to take action to save the health and lives of boxers by calling for a ban on boxing.

3.51 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): I beg to oppose the Bill, but, in doing so, I acknowledge that no hon. Member doubts the sincerity of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) or his consistency of view in this important matter.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a catalogue of deaths in boxing, and I am quite prepared, in defending boxing, to stand up and say that 14 boxers have been killed since 1946. However, I ask the House to set against that statistic the fact that, this winter alone, many more people than that have died on the Cairngorms while mountaineering. No hon. Member has come to the House to say that mountaineering should therefore be made illegal.

There is an extremely serious inconsistency in the hon. Gentleman's argument. I remind him and the House that people can choose whether to box, just as they can choose whether to go mountaineering, with all the known attendant dangers.

The tragic case of Michael Watson and the others mentioned by the hon. Gentleman moved the House as they moved this country. Such suffering moves the world, as does the suffering of people in any sport who are damaged almost to the point of death. I would remind the House that Mr. Sutcliffe, the surgeon who operated on McClellan and was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, does not want boxing banned, and nor do many other doctors, who know that it would only go underground if it were.

We really must not take the nanny state to the extremes suggested by the hon. Gentleman. Boxing is a very dangerous sport, as is my own main sport of horse riding. I mentioned mountaineering, but there are also many other dangerous sports, such as skiing, rugby football, motor car racing and cycle racing.

Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South): Jogging.

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Mr. Greenway: People have died jogging, but this is a serious matter, and I want to consider the lethal sports. People are killed in motor racing, but nobody suggests that that should be stopped. Boxing would not in any event be stopped if the Bill were passed. It would go underground. People would fight with bare fists, unlicensed and without medical supervision. What a dreadful society we would create if that were allowed to happen. What would happen to people drawn in against their will, as they would be if boxing were not open and they were unable to refuse? Is that what the hon. Gentleman wants? I am sure that it is not.

Boxing teaches people the art of self-defence. To listen to the hon. Gentleman, one would think that there were no arts that a boxer could employ to defend himself and avoid damaging blows, but the great art of boxing is not to be knocked out or knocked about, and 99 per cent. of boxers achieve that aim.

Boys enjoy boxing. I have helped in boxing clubs in my constituency and in east London, where boys have learned the art of boxing and become involved in an activity which has given them life when nothing else could. Does the hon. Gentleman want to take that away from such boys? Many come off the streets, they learn the art of boxing, and they learn self-discipline, often for the first time. Why should that be taken from them? They enjoy it, their families enjoy it, and the community enjoys it.

With all deference to the hon. Gentleman, is he not aware of clubs all over London where boxing takes place? Does he not know that boxing is returning to schools, and that, in such clubs, schools and other areas, there is very close supervision of the sport? That is its great value. There is medical supervision, training and skill in the sport.

Some distinguished hon. Members have boxed their way to the top. A boxing blue is sitting on the Front Bench today--my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), the Paymaster General--and some Opposition Members are former boxers. There is no doubt that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), the Opposition's spokesman on sport, and the Paymaster General have both learned to take care of themselves partly through the great sport which they enjoyed so much.

Is the House aware of the distinguished membership of the British Boxing Board of Control? It includes two hon. Members--the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe). How could it include more distinguished sportsmen? They are not going to stand by with others on that distinguished board and see people mutilated wantonly--and they will not.

There is no doubt that boxing is a fine, well-supervised sport. This House would do ill even to contemplate abolishing it. Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business): --

The House divided: Ayes 60, Noes 120.

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Division No. 126] [3.56 pm


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Ainger, Nick

Alton, David

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Callaghan, Jim

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Corston, Jean

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Davidson, Ian

Eastham, Ken

Etherington, Bill

Fatchett, Derek

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Don (Bath)

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Garrett, John

Gordon, Mildred

Gunnell, John

Harvey, Nick

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)

Illsley, Eric

Ingram, Adam

Jessel, Toby

Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)

Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)

Jowell, Tessa

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