Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Boxing Bill [H.L.]

5.56 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It may be helpful if I say a word first about the procedure for dealing with this Bill. Noble Lords will have noticed on the Order Paper that an amendment may be moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. The noble and learned Lord is seeking to commit the Bill to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, but in order that it may be committed to a Select Committee I must first obtain its Second Reading tonight. Therefore, I shall not pursue the debate in its usual terms but simply argue that this is a matter of sufficient importance and concern to warrant a Select Committee looking at the subject. Noble Lords who feel strongly about the matter one way or the other will, I hope, agree that it is of some importance and that a Select Committee is necessary. In order to achieve that end, I must have the approval of the House with regard to the Bill's Second Reading.

The Bill has a long history. I have pursued this matter over a number of years. It was originally introduced to the House by Lady Summerskill in 1962. I have had discussions on this Bill in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions since. On each occasion I was knocked out in the first round, as someone has said, and I did not succeed in gaining the Bill its Second Reading. That is a most unusual occurrence in your Lordships' House. I have always felt that a Second Reading could be justified as this is a matter of public concern. However, I hope that tonight, because of the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, we shall succeed in gaining the Bill its Second Reading.

There is no doubt that it is a matter of some concern and of some interest to the public. There is a substantial number of programmes on the subject on TV and radio. The public are interested in the matter. There is of course the special interest of the BMA. I speak with its full support in alerting the public to the dangers of professional boxing. In the Bill I am not dealing with amateur boxing, boys' clubs and that kind of

6 Dec 1995 : Column 1014

three-rounders where no substantial injury is inflicted; I am dealing with professional boxing. Some people may say, "It is not a very well drafted Bill". I admit that that is the case. It has weaknesses, but they can be dealt with in the kind of committee suggested by the noble and learned Lord.

I have returned to the subject because of the events that took place in Glasgow just a few weeks ago when a young man was killed in the ring. Some of the enthusiastic supporters on both sides proceeded to throw chairs and glasses at one another in a form of riot. It was not an attractive scene. This young athlete was taken from the ring and subsequently died.

If one looks at the recent history of the ring, it is not an edifying experience. Michael Watson is now paralysed and in a wheelchair; Gerald McLellan is permanently paralysed; Bradley Stone died just over 18 months ago; and James Murray died a few weeks ago. There should be some concern about that kind of experience and record.

Society is concerned nowadays about violence and the proliferation of violence in our communities. I notice, and perhaps I may draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, a document which was provided to me about programme standards in the BBC. One of the terms that the BBC is asked to observe is the need for proper vigilance in the portrayal of violence. Why is that so? Why is that written into the BBC code? It is because we recognise that the portrayal of violence is something that should be controlled, limited and restricted in a civilised society.

The portrayal of violence is evident in the boxing ring. On the previous occasion when we discussed this matter, I referred to a fight between Nigel Benn and Gerald McLellan. Nigel Benn entered the ring and blazoned upon his wrapper were the words, "The Black Destroyer". The other man, interviewed before the fight, said, "I get a buzz every time I knock a man unconscious". If that is not evidence of violent behaviour I do not know what is. The impact of boxing on violence in society is one of the issues that might be looked at by a Select Committee.

I am interested also in a matter that will be dealt with at greater length by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Some of your Lordships may have read of a recent case in which a group of people met and inflicted bodily harm upon one another. They were masochists and evidently derived some sexual pleasure from that experience. The courts found--there was an appeal to the House of Lords--that it was a crime to inflict bodily harm on someone else even if that other person permitted and invited it.

The 1861 Act provides that:

    "Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously ... wound or cause any grievous bodily harm",
shall commit an offence. The two people who are in the ring together are there by common consent. They have agreed to go in. What are they engaged in? They are engaged in a contest to inflict bodily harm on the opponent. The object is to knock a man unconscious. Surely that is a matter that might also be considered by the Select Committee.

6 Dec 1995 : Column 1015

We have abolished certain activities in this country. We have abolished cock fighting, for example. We have abolished bare-knuckle fighting. We should look also at whether boxing is not equally reprehensible. There is a great concern in this country about animals and their welfare. We legislate to protect animals from punishment and dangers. We should be equally concerned about inflicting bodily harm on other human beings. There is a moral issue involved in this matter.

When we discussed this matter previously we were asked, "What about other sports? There are other sports such as rugby football, soccer, and so on, where people get hurt and damaged". But in no other sport is there an intention to inflict bodily harm. In rugby football and some of those other sports it is an accident. There are codes and rules designed to prevent the infliction of bodily harm or any accident. Boxing is the only sport in which the infliction of bodily harm is the purpose of the exercise.

Some people have said to me, "If you ban professional boxing, you will drive it underground". That is not a doctrine I can appreciate: you must not pass a law because someone will defy it. That is no justification. The profits of professional boxing come from public demonstrations of professional boxing and the TV coverage of professional boxing. To say that boxing will be driven underground and some people will break the law if you pass it is not a good reason for abstaining from passing the law. Someone else has said, "It inflicts discipline on young people. Young boys learn discipline from boxing in boys' clubs and so on". But there are many ways of learning the art of good discipline other than by perpetuating boxing.

Tonight we can enable the House to have a special look at the issue. We can do that by passing the Second Reading and accepting the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Taylor of Gryfe.)

6.09 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I must declare an interest in that for more than 15 years I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the Staffordshire Association of Boys Clubs. That is an excellent body of people which provides money for clubs within Staffordshire in order to improve the facilities therein and to help boys from deprived areas, of which we have a number--

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl. The Bill does not deal with boys' clubs. It deals exclusively with professional boxing.

The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, the Bill has a bearing on boys' clubs. I was about to say that we derive the majority of our finance through our fund-raising activities. We put on sporting boxing matches with boys' clubs boxing against one another. Indeed, we have the Midlands Area

6 Dec 1995 : Column 1016

Championships at which people provide us with profits by paying for tables. Therefore, the activity is profit-making and falls within the remit of the Bill.

I do not propose to speak at great length on the Bill before your Lordships tonight. All the ground has been covered; namely, on 4th December 1991 (col. 290 of the Official Report) and more recently on 5th April of this year when my noble friend Lord Oxfuird managed to persuade your Lordships to refuse the then Bill a Second Reading (col. 288). It seems to me that, except for the date, the wording of the Bill has not changed since 1991, yet here we are again debating the same issue.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, on his determination and tenacity in bringing this Bill before your Lordships again. I assure your Lordships that I am the first to acknowledge that, if he fails tonight, it will not be long before the Bill is back before us. I know that he will continue with the issue until such time as he receives satisfaction. I am sure that that is admirable.

Boxing is a major sport and it is followed by millions of enthusiasts the world over. Of course, it is a contact sport which by its very nature carries serious risks to the participants. But so do all contact sports. Many sports which are not classed as contact sports involve serious risks too. Perhaps I may give the examples of horse-racing and motor racing, to name but two. It must be said that boxing is most certainly not the highest risk sport in terms of the number of people injured.

Boxing, both amateur and professional, is a better regulated sport than it ever has been. Boxing in the United Kingdom is by far the best regulated boxing in the world. We should be proud of that. In the light of recent tragedies in the ring--and they have been awful--the authorities which regulate the sport in the United Kingdom have tightened their rules even further and will continue to do so. I speak with no knowledge of the authorities. No one from the authorities has contacted me and I certainly have not contacted anyone. I speak entirely as a boxing enthusiast.

Boxing enthusiasts--and I have said that I am one--have every sympathy with the families who have suffered loved ones being either maimed or fatally injured in pursuit of their professional career in the ring and, indeed, in the amateur game in pursuit of excellence in the sport of their choice. That is most important. Such awful injuries seldom occur, but when they do they hit the headlines because boxing is a controversial sport and controversy sells newspapers.

Nobody is forced to take part in boxing or in any other sport of which I know. It is a matter of complete choice for the individual. It is only at the very top of the sport that huge purses exist. Personally, I object to such enormous pay-days, with many hangers-on creaming off the top layer of the money. Many professional boxers box two or three times a week all over the country, providing after-dinner entertainment at sporting clubs and many other places. They earn very little indeed. They do it because they want to.

Such financial incentives at the top of the tree are a fact of life these days in almost every sport that has a professional side. Whether we like it or not, sport is

6 Dec 1995 : Column 1017

followed by vast numbers of people. With modern methods of bringing televised sport into every living room in the land, the money stakes become larger still on a daily basis. I find that pretty horrendous but it is a fact of life.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, completely refutes the argument that, if banned, the sport would go underground. But it already is underground and has been for years. The noble Lord gave the example of cock fighting. That is completely illegal, and so it should be. It is a vile sport, but it takes place. If we do not live in the real world we do not see such things. But it does happen.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that there is unregulated boxing in this country today. It most certainly will go underground if banned and I am sure that your Lordships would not wish those circumstances to occur with no regulation whatever and much higher risks of very serious injuries occurring without any medical assistance. That would be a very large burden for your Lordships to carry on their consciences.

What about the amateur game? There, tournaments are put on to raise large amounts of money for charitable purposes. I have already mentioned the Staffordshire Association of Boys Clubs, and that is affiliated to the national association. It provides sporting and club facilities for lads from truly deprived areas. We found that the only good way of raising substantial funds was by putting on boxing evenings. People pay to go and they are delighted to be there. Such games have a great following and are extremely well regulated too. However, under the Bill anyone who raised funds in such a way would be classed as making a profit out of boxing and the organisers would be liable for prosecution. That cannot be right.

Perhaps I may return briefly to the fact that boxers participate of their own free will, knowing full well all the risks attached. All sportsmen do. I was a very, very, very bad amateur jockey. I hate to tell your Lordships that in my first season I had 36 rides, during which I had 34 falls, one horse pulled up and one refused. That is not a good record to have. I hurt myself on numerous occasions and eventually I retired 20 years later having had only two winners. Your Lordships would never have bet on me. But I thoroughly enjoyed what I did. No one forced me into it and I made no money out of it whatever. It was something that I wanted to do of my own free choice.

On Monday evening I had the pleasure of sitting next to Nigel Mansell. Your Lordships will know that he is a superb racing driver. He assured me that he was not retiring. Some of us may think that perhaps he is a little over the hill now, but never mind. We discussed the noble Lord's Bill. Mr. Mansell has achieved in his sport of motor racing the highest goals and has had some horrific accidents. He told me that he knew all the risks and all the dangers involved but that it was entirely his decision to take part. He started as an amateur. There is no point in trying to make money because as an amateur one cannot. It happened that he was good enough to take

6 Dec 1995 : Column 1018

part in the professional sport and to excel at it. I reiterate that the choice is up to the individual; and who are we to deny people that right?

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has very serious moral views about boxing; I appreciate that entirely. However, I am sure that if his Bill succeeds, a dangerous precedent will have been created and that it will follow that all sports which have an element of danger to humans will be at risk. The noble Lord mentioned other sports such as football where accidents happen. One has only to read the newspapers to know that a number of what are supposed to be accidents are intentional, which is why a number of such incidents have come in front of the courts.

Finally, I do not believe that the Bill will stand amending in Committee. It is far too wide-ranging in its form and in order to get anywhere it must be completely redrafted. I have no legal brain and that is purely my own feeling. But it is not for Parliament to legislate against sport, either this sport or sport in general. It is for the appropriate regulatory bodies which govern the sports constantly to improve their standards and to minimise the potential risks for all those who participate at any level. As was said by my noble friend Lord Oxfuird during the debate on 5th April:

    "Adaptation and not banning is the answer".--[Official Report, 5/4/95; col. 292.]
I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and at end insert ("this day six months").--(The Earl of Shrewsbury.)

6.19 p.m.

Lord Brightman: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, for saying that he is content that the Bill should not proceed along the usual lines but should be referred to a Select Committee so that its merits and demerits can be examined and reported to the House.

The advantage of the Select Committee procedure is that the committee will receive evidence from informed sources and must then make a written report to the House. The committee can reject the Bill outright, amend it or promote its own Bill. In either of the latter two events, the Bill will return to your Lordships for a full Committee stage on the Floor of the House. The House, with the benefit of the report it has received from the Select Committee, can do anything it pleases with the Bill. In particular, the committee can amend the Bill to clear up an ambiguity highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the last occasion; namely, whether the Bill covers kick-boxing, which I understand has been introduced from Thailand and involves punching the head with the feet. The Select Committee can clear up any other ambiguities which are contained in the Bill.

In 1984, the controversial Parochial Charities (Neighbourhood Trusts) Bill and the Small Charities Bill were referred to a Select Committee for evidence and a report. The Select Committee denied both Bills a further reading and drafted its own Bill which became the highly successful Charities Act 1985.

6 Dec 1995 : Column 1019

However, this Boxing Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, can be sent to a Select Committee only if your Lordships permit the Bill a Second Reading. I feel sure that none of your Lordships will wish to deny the House and, indeed, the public the benefit of the evidence and the independent report which a Select Committee is in a position to provide. The report of the Select Committee will guide the House to a responsible conclusion. And it will avoid the House being troubled again and again and again by a boxing Bill as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I feel certain, will accept the considered view of this House based upon evidence and an appropriate investigation and report by a Select Committee.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page