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Lord Ackner: My Lords, I never put forward the thesis that there was no doubt that boxing was illegal. I said that there was a strongly arguable case that that might be the situation and that therefore that was another pointer towards the need for further discussion.
We believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, pointed out, that individuals should have the freedom voluntarily to participate in the sport of their choice so long as they are fully aware of the risk involved. What is paramount in the case of boxing is that the element of risk attached to it is minimised so that it is reduced to a generally acceptable level and that proper medical safeguards are always in place.
The British Boxing Board of Control, which is the official body controlling the professional sport, insists on medical safeguards which are among the most rigorous in the world and which are constantly under review. After the death of Bradley Stone last year, the board launched a review of its safety procedures. An independent Medical Review Committee was set up and last month it announced, as has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, a 12-point plan to improve safety further.
Perhaps I may list some of the proposed changes, some of which have already been implemented, so that your Lordships will see that the British Boxing Board of Control takes its responsibilities very seriously indeed. Perhaps the most significant change is the improved brain scanning which will be done annually for all boxers. That will help detect and prevent any abnormality before it is too late. Weigh-in times are to be brought forward by at least 24 hours. That will help to prevent the chances of boxers dehydrating to make the required weight before a contest and then not rehydrating properly before they get into the ring. After the bout medical checks will also be tightened. Ringside equipment is to be reviewed and staff will have better access to the boxers. Boxers will not be allowed to spar or to take part in contests for 45 days after a stopped fight or a knock-out.
To ban boxing would drive the sport underground and remove those who choose, and who will in the future choose, to box from the very safeguards which now protect them. Furthermore, even if boxing were banned in this country, boxers could still compete overseas where the medical safeguards may not be so stringent, as is the case in those Scandinavian countries where professional boxing is outlawed.
Even now, while boxing is legal, I am told--and this was corroborated earlier this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury--that illegal bouts, often involving criminal behaviour, take place relatively often. During these fights, men are often bare knuckled or tied together at the waist, and even
The purpose of boxing is not the knock-out, but to score points by breaking through an opponent's defence. It is true that of recent years this sometimes seems to have been forgotten in the razzmatazz surrounding certain film fights where large sums of money have been involved. This so-called "showboating" and "talking up" the fight, risks mutating the sport into mere showbusiness. That is why the British Boxing Board of Control has fined and warned some of those who have engaged in that kind of promotion because it tends to present the activity as mere prize fighting and not the sport of boxing.
If boxing exists, why should those who want to try to earn their living from it not be allowed to do so if that is their wish? After all, those who are good at driving cars fast can become motor racing drivers or those who are good at riding horses well become jockeys or showjumpers or circus artists. Such a ban is exactly what this Bill entails. Further, it will seriously wound the amateur game where youth clubs, who it is generally recognised on all sides fulfil a very valuable role in society and who currently charge an entry fee to help them defray the necessary costs of staging contests, will no longer be able to do so.
In conclusion, our overriding concern is safety and we do not believe--the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell--that properly regulated professional boxing between volunteers engaged in a lawful sport should be outlawed, for the reasons I have already explained. So we cannot support the Bill.
I have indicated the Government's view of the policy which the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, seeks to implement. Your Lordships have also heard the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that the Bill should be committed to a Select Committee to permit a thorough consideration of all the medical and legal evidence relating to the issue of boxing. A number of noble and learned Lords supported that proposal. I do not believe that it is appropriate or necessary to name them individually. When all is said and done, this must be a matter for the House.
It is the responsibility of the Liaison Committee in your Lordships' House to review the Select Committee work of the House to consider requests for ad hoc committees and to report to the House with recommendations. Perhaps I may respectfully suggest that if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading this evening, the Liaison Committee should be invited to consider whether a Select Committee on the Bill could perform a useful function. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal has indicated that he will be happy to raise the matter with the Liaison Committee at its next meeting should the Bill be read a second time this evening.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, the subject has been adequately discussed this evening, and I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have participated in the debate. The matter has been discussed with some seriousness. I wish to make two points. One was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and others, about the drafting of the Bill. That was done upstairs on my behalf. I did not fill in the kind of detail that others have sought.
Tonight we are not really discussing--and I refer to the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman--banning professional boxing. Having heard the diversity of views expressed; being conscious of public concern over the matter; and being aware of the legal complications that have been mentioned in the discussion by several noble and learned Lords, we are discussing whether it is right that the House of Lords should remit this matter to the Liaison Committee to consider the appointment of a special committee to look at the issue. That is the issue for which noble Lords will vote. The alternative is that it is rejected out of hand.
Perhaps I may assure noble Lords who are inclined to take that view, that I shall return to this subject time and time again. I abhor violence. I shall pursue that principle as long as I am in this House. That is not the point I am discussing tonight; I am discussing the right of this House to discharge a responsibility to look at this issue, as noble Lords normally do, with calm judgment, hearing evidence, and making up its mind. I hope that noble Lords will accept that that is the issue on which they now have to vote while technically they are voting for my Bill. The issue is that the House of Lords will consider this matter in a Select Committee.
The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, we have had a fascinating and interesting debate on this issue tonight. In my judgment it has been the finest debate we have had, including the debate in 1991. The arguments have been incredibly powerful. I have listened extremely carefully to all of them, both for and against. They have also been most persuasive.
I feel very strongly indeed about this matter, as do many hundreds of thousands of people in this country, not only the followers of boxing, but followers of all sports. I entirely agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said. In my opinion he is completely correct. I entirely agree with his suggestion of an independent inquiry into the sport. At the end of the day, we should not be legislating on such matters. We should leave that to the adequate bodies which have governed these sports for many years, and
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.