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Lord Howell: My Lords, I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord on that point. I was just about to deal with amateur and especially schoolboy boxing in which I indulged in my day. That may account for people perhaps thinking that I have suffered from intellectual damage ever since. I have sought during a long period in politics to get over that unfortunate occurrence.
I believe it is illogical of my noble friend Lord Taylor to say that he disregards amateur boxing and schoolboy boxing because they are not intended to cause injury. I can assure the noble Lord that there is just as much of an intention to cause distress to the opponent in amateur
I do not intend to speak for too long but later I shall return to the governance that the Boxing Board of Control should exercise. I still follow schoolboy boxing. At the slightest sign of any difficulty or distress in schoolboy boxing the contest is stopped. I believe one can say the same thing about amateur boxing. I hesitate to criticise the British Boxing Board of Control in the presence of my noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, but I believe it is unable to exercise the same rigid control over professional boxing as is found in schoolboy and amateur boxing.
I refer to disgraceful crowd scenes that have taken place at Glasgow and Birmingham. Let us not think, however, that that is unique to boxing. I spent years addressing the problem of disgraceful crowd scenes at football matches. I set up committees of inquiry. Finally the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, the Lord Chief Justice, investigated the serious problems which arose at Hillsborough. I was present at Hillsborough and witnessed the problems. Serious problems have been associated with football. More recently problems, although less serious, have been associated with Rugby League, where disturbing crowd scenes have occurred. That is a phenomenon to which we rightly have to pay attention but it would be wrong to propose that as a unique argument in favour of this Bill as those situations occur in other sports.
I have several areas of anxiety regarding this matter and I understand why my noble friend has raised these matters. I am concerned, for example, about the arrangements that are put in hand as regards professional boxing before a contest even begins. We are told that pre-fight arrangements are now made with the nearest neurosurgical hospital and that ambulances have to be kept on standby. Specialist doctors are to be found at the corners of the ring. I concede an argument against myself, as it were, but I am bound to say that if those involved in the sport have to go to those lengths to try to safeguard the well-being of the participants, that merits the kind of debate we are having today. Such matters must be seriously considered.
I have given the matter considerable thought over many years and I return again and again to what seems to me to be the overriding question. The question is not whether or not we should ban boxing--that is not the matter we are discussing tonight--but whether we should prevent the exercise of free will on behalf of citizens who, knowing all the dangers, nevertheless wish to participate in this sport. That seems to me to be the essence of this matter. There can be no doubt at all that, whether we like it or not, people wish to participate in boxing. They must know all the risks involved. The recent deaths and injuries cannot have occurred without people understanding the risks which are involved in boxing.
I wish to draw to the attention of the House and the British Boxing Board of Control further steps that could be taken. First, I believe that many injuries are caused as a result of the wasting that boxers endure to achieve the weight at which they wish to fight. That certainly limits their physical prowess and constitutes a danger. I hope that we shall try to stop that. Boxers should fight at their natural weight and should not be forced to undergo a reducing process which can have such dangerous effects. Incidentally, it is interesting that none of the boxing accidents which have been mentioned has occurred with heavyweight boxers. Heavyweight boxers do not attempt to reduce their weight. It is remarkable that they do not appear to suffer the injuries that we are discussing. It is worth mentioning that.
Secondly, in my judgment, fights which are becoming one-sided should be stopped by the referee more quickly than at present. The British Boxing Board of Control has much to answer for. I know that it may have angry crowds, but if a fight is becoming one sided it should not be allowed to continue. So often we see on our television screens fights which proceed much further than they should.
Thirdly, I believe that the British Boxing Board of Control should introduce compulsory head protection for people engaged in the sport. That has not been introduced in this country and, in my judgment, it should be.
I feel strongly about one issue which I believe that a governing body of sport should control. I illustrate the matter by referring to the extraordinary performances of the boxer known as Prince Naseem Hamed. Noble Lords may have seen this man. He prances around the ring leering at his opponents, behaving in the most nauseating fashion. Whatever he is up to, it cannot possibly be defended under the term of sportsmanship. In most sports ungentlemanly conduct is an offence against the rules. If it is not so in boxing, it should be made so at once if our friends in boxing want, as they say, to clean up their act. We do not want such leering provocation and nauseating behaviour by this young man or anyone else. It has happened before and should be stopped.
I conclude by saying that boxing has to control itself. If it does not, it will destroy itself. That is another fear to which we should have regard. However, on the main question, do not let us interfere with the exercise of free will for sporting people if they wish to take up boxing, but let us see that they do so under sensible, controlled circumstances.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, I should have thought that it was a strange manifestation of the democratic process if there is to be a denial of a proper investigation of an activity in regard to which there is now a strongly arguable case that it is unlawful, and an activity which involves, as its main aim, the infliction of bodily injury. Like my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman, I wish to hear and evaluate the rational arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said exist on both sides.
I am not parti pris. I and my two brothers--respectively, Ackners 1, 2 and 3, at our prep school--were all involved in being trained to box. It was a strong feature of the school, justified on the basis, among other things, that it taught one to keep one's temper and to be a good loser--characteristics which came in handy from time to time at the Bar in later life. Those days were long ago, and I was sorry to learn on 'phoning the headmaster's secretary that eight years ago boxing at the school had been stopped because of the appreciation of the possibility that damage could be done. That possibility may be remote when one is dealing with youngsters up to the age of 13, but it is still possible.
I have referred to the legal position and I should like to say a little about that, in particular in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, whose great efforts in the case in the House of Lords to which I shall refer failed (I was not a party to the Judicial Committee) but failed with a respectable minority of two in the ultimate decision.
That was the oddest of cases. It involved the appellants being convicted of assaults occasioning actual bodily harm. The incidents leading up to the convictions occurred in consensual sado-masochistic homosexual encounters. In that case it was held that the consents--no doubt the enthusiastic consents--of all those who gained satisfaction from the activities described in the judgment was no defence because what they set out to do, and what they achieved in doing, was to cause bodily harm to those who were the subject matter of their sadism. Bodily harm in law has a very wide connotation. It is,
The purpose of boxing, to which I have referred, and I believe the now accepted medical material, show that that activity is very probably now unlawful. In R v. Brown their Lordships referred to elderly cases dealing with prize fighting and other fights. It is
If there is a strongly arguable case--and I submit there is--that boxing of the professional kind to which reference has been made is or may be unlawful, it would be utterly wrong to kill a Bill which is designed to investigate further that activity and, no doubt, to come up with proposals as to how to deal with it. In my respectful submission, it would be a reaction of a kind that would do this House no credit in its approach to how serious matters should be handled. For that reason, I respectfully suggest that we should not resist a Second Reading.
In your Lordships' House we nearly always give a Second Reading to a Bill. We refrain from voting against it even though many of us disagree with it. I hope that in the light of what has been said in this debate and in view of the usual practice in your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury will not prevent or attempt to prevent further discussion on this important matter by simply moving that the Bill should be read again in six months' time. In effect, that would kill the Bill for another Session. I implore him not to do it.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships for long. There is no need after what we have heard. I have broadly two reasons for supporting the Bill. The first I can put this way. All of us in the course of our lives, whether long like mine or shorter, have hoped that our society would become more civilised as time went on. Alas, however, violence has increased and become part of the way of life of so much of our community in recent years and we must be careful to try to prevent the attitude among people that violence is a legitimate part of life. We must try to dissuade them from it. Boxing seen on television gives people, especially the young, the impression that violence is acceptable in certain circumstances. That is my first reason for supporting the Bill, put as briefly as I can.
My second reason has been mentioned, the medical reason. There is now strong scientific evidence and medical proof that heavy blows to the human head--whether to a heavyweight boxer like Muhammad Ali whose head suffered through his contests, or a middleweight, or any boxer--can destroy some of the brain cells.
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