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Lord Howell: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for the direction which his speech is taking. However, I wonder whether he has thought through to the logical conclusion. It is, for example, that we should ban the heading of balls at football matches because they undoubtedly damage the brain in some cases. Also what would he do about West Indian fast bowlers aiming the ball at heads of batsmen? Is that something of which the state should take account and declare it to be illegal? There are ramifications all round. I repeat my point that I have no objection to a proper investigation into all that, but not as an adjunct to the one-clause Bill before the House tonight.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I have the deepest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Howell, whom I have known for many years in our membership of both Houses of Parliament. I do not believe that he would have said
Let me resume briefly my reminder to the House of the strong medical evidence. For some years the British Medical Association has been strongly against boxing. It is not only the brain cells that can be injured by blows to the head; the eyes, ears, mouth and teeth can be injured, and are. One of the problems in relation to injury to brain cells is that there is no recovery; the cells are not replaced. Those are my two main reasons in favour of the Bill.
We should be doing all we can to make our own society, and by example the society of other countries, more civilised, peaceful, kind and gentle. In that context, the display of force in professional boxing, especially on television, needs to be very carefully considered.
Lord Meston: My Lords, I declare an interest as an appeal steward of the British Boxing Board of Control. It is a position for which I receive no financial reward. This is not a matter on which I understand any party to have particular stated policies. Views differ in every section of this House, as in society as a whole.
As noble Lords were reminded, this is the third time that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has brought his Bill before the House for a Second Reading. His two previous Bills were each refused a Second Reading after debates in December 1991 and earlier this year. The words of this Bill are exactly the same. There has been no attempt to adapt it to cover some of the drafting criticisms previously made. However, those are matters of detail. I hope that the House will reject the Bill in principle, as it did twice before. I also hope that noble Lords will consider that enough is enough and will support the amendment of the noble Earl if he moves it.
I do not believe that the arguments for and against professional boxing have improved with age or will improve with repetition. I certainly do not wish to bore the House by repeating what I have said twice before.
My noble friend Lord Addington regrets that he cannot be here. In one or both of the earlier debates he made a comparison with other physical contact and combat sports which remain untouched by this Bill.
As the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, said, ultimately boxing remains a matter of choice for the boxers. Nobody can say that nowadays boxers do not make an informed choice as to whether to run the risks of their sport.
The Bill seeks to create a criminal offence. The House should not lose sight of that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, mentioned the observation of noble and learned Lords in the Appellate Committee and the decision in the case of Brown. That raises a different question. There is a distinction between the legality of boxing as such, as discussed in Brown, and the creation of a specific criminal offence of promoting professional boxing, as this Bill seeks to do.
I suggest that strong public policy grounds are required for the criminalisation of what has been accepted as a lawful sport for very many years. Noble Lords should know that the British Boxing Board of Control remains vigilant. I suggest that it is one of the best boxing organisations in the world. As some noble Lords may also know, further safety standards were introduced this year. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned the matter of severe weight loss. Subject to correction, my understanding is that the British Boxing Board of Control is particularly aware of the problem of severe dehydration to effect rapid weight loss. I know that the board takes the matter very seriously.
There is no doubt that, even if this Bill became law, illegal boxing would continue underground. It would do so, however, without the controls and safeguards that currently exist to govern the weight of boxers, proper matchmaking and matters such as the number of rounds for different categories of bout.
Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. If that were to happen, the enormous sums that pass in relation to a professional boxing match would no longer be paid, would they?
Lord Meston: My Lords, I beg to differ with the noble Lord to some extent. It may be the case that enormous sums would not pass. However, with respect, it is naive to suggest that money would be eliminated as a factor. Frankly, the prime motive for continuing illegal boxing behind closed doors would be financial.
Boxing in those situations would also continue without the provision of medical supervision and the availability of medical help if required and without alert licensed referees. It would certainly continue without any rules to prevent commercial exploitation of those who should probably not be in a boxing ring at the time. One of the tasks of appeal stewards is to consider
I suggest that the question is therefore whether Parliament wants a properly regulated and carefully controlled sport, as now, or whether there is to be the development of an unlawful and unregulated sport, which would undoubtedly be much more dangerous. I suggest that there is only one sensible answer. I therefore hope that the Bill will be rejected once again.
It may be tempting to follow the course suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, if it provides the opportunity for serious consideration of all the arguments and evidence, as the Law Commission suggested in its consultation paper No. 134. Other noble Lords may not be so tempted on the basis that the arguments and principles have been well rehearsed too many times to require further analysis in Committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that at first sight it is quite remarkable to have a Select Committee procedure on the back of what is, on the face of it, an abolitionist Bill.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, this has been an interesting Second Reading debate. I do not speak in favour or otherwise of the merits of the Bill but in support of my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman, who wants to see the Bill committed to a Select Committee.
Nobody can deny that boxing is both a major and controversial sport, accommodating participants ranging from children to professionals. There are many conflicting views both for and against, with a further body of opinion insisting on modification.
The amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, would, as we all know, effectively exclude further debate on this important subject in the House at this time. I do not believe that this country and indeed the sport as a whole would thank us for that. I am sure that the noble Earl would be the first to agree that there are sufficient unanswered questions on this important matter to support a case for an in-depth authoritative study. A Select Committee is the appropriate mechanism for that. I believe that it is in the best interests of the sport to put to rest once and for all the many questions that are emerging. Now is the opportunity. I strongly urge the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment and would encourage all noble Lords to support the proposal of my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman for an investigation.
Finally, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to tell the House his views on whether he would support committal of the Bill and if not, why not. Will he accept that the overwhelming sense of the House is towards committal?
The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, I rise in the gap to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. I personally boxed in competitive boxing for 10 years of my life, during all my Army career and all the time that I was at both prep. school and public school. It may have done me some damage but I am not aware of it.
I very much hope that we can have a Select Committee on this very difficult subject, about which some people feel very strongly. I have not heard any argument in this House today which has gone against the suggestion that a Select Committee be set up to look into this particular Boxing Bill.
I should like to support the proposal that the Bill obtain a Second Reading. It raises a very important question. It is not an easy question, as the words which have fallen from your Lordships clearly indicate. I appreciate the high motives of the noble Earl in taking his present course. I should never use of him the expression "an attempt to kill the Bill" with the pejorative implications which such a description of action would imply. But if this Bill is to be rejected, let it be after careful and conscientious deliberation. Let us not be afraid to hear and talk about the points of view on each side.
Thirty or 40 years ago it would never have occurred to me that professional boxing should be stopped. I confess that it is 40 years since I attended professional prize fighting. I went a few times to the King's Hall in Belfast when there was a title fight on and I have watched boxing on television. I have not had the personal experience of boxing that other noble Lords have mentioned. I had the gloves on only once at the age of seven. It was at a girls' school which took little boys. Another boy aged seven, who was not quite so little as I, brought to school two pairs of boxing gloves and we had a fight in the break. Sixty-nine years later I cannot remember which, if any, of our fellow pupils we were trying to impress, but after 10 minutes we called it an honourable draw.
One cannot help but realise that the pleasure and excitement of the crowd are at their greatest when the action is at its fiercest. That is something which makes one think. I sat in the case of R. v. Brown, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, addressed us so cogently and almost successfully. The papers portrayed the result as three rather old-fashioned old men from the Middle Temple outvoting two young enterprising and intellectual companions. Well, that is one point of view.
I am now, by statute, unfit to judge and possibly in fact as well. But the fact that I cannot take part any more allows me to feel a little freer to say something about that case. I approached it as one in which the real question was, if people consent to have
One comment that one might make about boxing--and it has to be weighed in the scales--is that there are times when the boxers are trying to inflict on each other not only actual bodily harm but really serious personal injury. I am not trying to moralise, but is the fact that that is possibly an unlawful activity not an additional reason why we should look at the whole thing rather carefully? Perhaps some regulatory legislation might be brought in as a result of all the deliberation. Perhaps one does not go the whole way. Perhaps the Bill should be thrown out. But, please, let it be discussed.
Baroness Jeger: My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I speak rather personally in this debate. When my late husband was a medical student at the London Hospital, there was great rivalry, which was part of the fun of being a student. There was a rugby club, a boxing club, and so on. Bart's might stage a fight, as would St. Thomas's. All that kind of activity was going on. He joined in very happily.
Once my husband became qualified and a consultant, not only at the London Hospital but at the postgraduate Hammersmith Hospital, he saw injured patients and said, "We must stop this." There is a lot of propaganda about famous boxers who fall into terrible crises. We had a practice in Shoreditch which took in much of the East End of London. The patients we saw were not prizewinners. They were young men with terrible injuries. They were not famous and the public did not know about them. We knew about them. They never worked again; their whole lives were wrecked.
We are often told that boxing is a very good way for black men to get into some kind of society. That has been said to me in New York and Washington. "Well," it is said, "they cannot do much else, so let them be boxers." We did not see famous boxers. I always thought, as did my late husband, that a kind of alibi was being used. Why should boxing be regarded as providing an opening for those young people? Such openings should exist in all walks of life. It is often said that all the best boxers are black because it is the only thing they can do. That makes me sad. It suggests that we are not providing sufficient opportunities for those people.
We saw patient after patient who was not and never would be famous, knocked out of the race before he had even started. Some people say that all sport is dangerous. That is true. I confess that I am in my 80th year and still love dangerous sports. I have only just given up rock climbing. When I was rock
Accidents occur in driving and in many other sports throughout the world. But it is stupid to say that boxing is simply another sport and that accidents can happen anywhere. Boxing injuries are not accidents; they are caused deliberately. That is the difference, and that is why the sooner boxing is banned the better. That is why I shall be voting with my noble friend.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I particularly want to thank my noble friend for again bringing this subject before us and giving the House the opportunity to discuss a matter which is undoubtedly of public concern. We have been around this course before and none of the arguments, the facts and figures, that I have heard tonight have altered from six months ago when this proposition was rejected by both Houses of Parliament in the same week.
Before I begin I should make clear that, as this is a Private Member's Bill on an issue in which Labour has no official party position, I am speaking completely in a personal capacity. That is why I can vote. If I were speaking officially, I should have to abstain. In that context I should add that my party's shadow sports spokesman in the Commons today stated to me that he opposes this Bill.
I should add too, in a psychological context, that I have a constitutional aversion to bans of all kinds--the banning of boxing, fox hunting, fishing, smoking and alcohol. Down the path of personal pleasures lies an endless pursuit of people who wish to ban us from doing them. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, will know, smoking and alcohol cause far more deaths and injuries than boxing and some day we may hear from him the extent to which they should be made illegal.
My position may stem from the fact that I am not from the Cromwellian stable from which some others originate and my ancestors may well have been in Droghede when Cromwell arrived to ban them. If my noble friend or any other noble Lord wishes to introduce a Bill to ban bans, I can promise in advance that they will have my total support.
I shall not repeat all the familiar arguments for and against boxing. They were put well in April and have been put well tonight by noble Lords on all sides. My position is contained in detail in Hansard of 5th April. However, I should like to pick up one or two points where the argument continues. In relation to deaths and injuries we heard discussion about other sports being more dangerous. That cannot be dismissed. My noble friend read out the death roll from boxing; but for motorcar and motorcycle racing and horse riding I could read out a much longer and equally distinguished list. Hill walking is of course the most dangerous sport of all.
My noble friend Lord Taylor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made a strong point, as did my noble friend Lady Jaeger, that the injuries that occur in other sports are not deliberately inflicted. That is an important point which I have always accepted. But it is not a decisive argument and is of little interest to the victims in those other sports.
In high risk sports deaths and injuries are inevitable; they are central to those sports, even if they are not the central purpose. Deaths and injuries will continue to occur in those sports at a higher level than in boxing while mountains, fast motors and horses retain their present characteristics. Accidents in those sports are as predictable and inevitable as they are in boxing.
Why do we not include martial arts? Boxing is not unique in having the infliction of injury as its main objective; martial arts do likewise. So why not ban them all? Why does not the school about which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, spoke ban rugby as well as boxing? More serious injuries occur in rugby than in boxing and I do not know where that slippery path ends.
The reason why the proponents of the Bill wish to ban boxing and not other sports is because they have a specific moral objection to it. They dislike sports of concentrated physical aggression and where physical damage is a major objective. The Bill therefore is a vehicle for a specific moral stance for which I have great respect but which I do not share. I particularly did not share it when my noble friend said that boxing was "reprehensible". I am very wary before referring to activities, that many of our citizens enjoy and choose, as "reprehensible".
The medical aspects of boxing and its better regulation to reduce the risks are important. Many anxieties expressed by noble Lords could be secured by better regulation. The sport need not be banned to secure that. The boxing authorities recently introduced 12 reforms to improve the sport and reduce the risks. Undoubtedly more could be done. My noble friend Lord Howell mentioned some improvements and I have my own suggestions. A different Bill specifying such reforms or a Select Committee along those lines would certainly receive wider support and my sympathy.
Any approach must be realistic. Boxing is and always will be a hard and demanding physical sport. It will always involve some physical risk, as do those other even more dangerous sports to which I referred. But it is not just dangerous; it is also popular among many thousands who never suffer any injuries. It is regulated and open to tighter regulation which would not be the case if it were banned and driven underground. As anyone who has lived or worked in the socially deprived areas of this country will know--perhaps this House is full of them--it provides a sense of discipline and achievement. Above all--here I support totally what my noble friend Lord Howell said--it is voluntary. No one is compelled to box. No one is unaware of the risk.
This Bill seeks to abolish that individual free choice. Boxing is quite different from cock fighting and bear baiting, where the participants have no freedom of choice. It is quite different from illegal drug taking, which is not done under proper regulation and medical supervision. It is quite different, though much less interesting, than those border areas of human territory of a sadomasochistic nature, to which the noble and learned Lord referred, because, again, such activities are not carried out under proper legal and medical regulation; although I note with interest that the noble and learned judges are extending their interventions into every corner of our lives. I begin to understand what the Opposition Front Bench has been moaning about.
This is a puritanical measure. It picks out one sport, not the most dangerous, and seeks to eliminate individual freedom to choose to play it. As such, I oppose the Bill and will in my personal capacity vote accordingly. On the question of the Select Committee proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, which is a compromise, it is a question not easy to oppose in principle and I would not be unhappy with that. However, the Bill before us seems not best suited to that procedure. It contains no details. It is simply a one clause moral statement of disapproval of boxing. I agree with my noble friend that if you want an inquiry into boxing then please let us have one. I would support that and so should others. But a Select Committee is not the best way. I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. It is not the best way.
We are in an odd situation. We have a clear Bill before us, a one clause ban, which is suddenly converted into, and is defended as, an inquiry before a Select Committee. That is quite different from the original proposal and is not the best procedure for an inquiry. Furthermore, we have no guarantee that we shall get the Select Committee. Are noble Lords aware that while opposing the Bill before us they may vote for it to go to a Select Committee, but not get the committee but the Bill? I will vote against it. If it is passed, I would prefer it to proceed to a Select Committee. But best of all I would prefer to have a proper government-sponsored inquiry into boxing which I would totally support. I regret that that is not the proposal before us.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood): My Lords, the Government share the concerns first articulated this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and then echoed by subsequent speakers, that the safety of boxers must be the prime consideration. But we do not believe that the professional sport should be banned and cannot
As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has pointed out, the Bill has a long history which began when I was at school. It is the second time this year that we are debating the matter. Earlier in the year my noble friend Lady Trumpington spoke about boxing after the injuries sustained by Gerald McLellan, and today we are debating banning boxing not long after the tragic death of James Murray. While these are very unhappy events, the Government do not believe that they should be allowed to distort the overall picture of accidents and fatalities in boxing. There are deaths and injuries in other sports too. One only needs to look back at the second half of this year to find instances of this; for example, the racing driver Mika Hakkinen, seriously injured, and the Italian cyclist, Fabio Casartelli, who died in the Tour de France.
Since 1945 there have been 15 deaths in professional boxing. That must be compared to 72 deaths in motor sports and 26 in riding in just five years. We are not, here, dealing with a sport in which death occurs to an extent which is beyond what is considered acceptable in other sports.
Equally the same is true so far as concerns injuries. For example, the Sports Council estimates that there are 1.5 million injury incidents in martial arts each year, 8.6 million in soccer, 1.6 million in rugby and 2.7 million in running. There are a negligible number in boxing, which has been identified by the Sports Council in its analysis of sports accidents as being in the least risky category of sports.
Boxing is an established and properly regulated sport in this country at both amateur and professional level in which all those who take part do so willingly, and it has a wide following among the general public. It is lawful, stretches back over hundreds of years and is a major part of this country's sporting heritage.
A number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Ackner and Lord Lowry, referred to the so-called "Operation Spanner" case. This is now being considered by the European Commission on Human Rights, so for that reason I shall not discuss it further other than to say that I think it better that I say nothing more about the interesting remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lowry, and to comment that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, displayed those skills in advocacy, which perhaps on his own admission owe something to schoolboy boxing, to present a legal case which while lucidly expressed and cogently argued is not one the Government would necessarily accept. I am sure he
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