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Lord Airedale: My Lords, or more so indeed, but they are not so strong or likely to knock each other unconscious and so the crowds tend to keep away. I believe that that says something about the crowds who turn up for big fights between big men. Whether professional boxing can really be called a sport at all I rather doubt. It is certainly part of the entertainment industry, but whether it is in truth a sport I would doubt.
Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, said, the doctors are going to win this argument in the end. They have won it already over smoking. There is a little way to go, but smoking is becoming increasingly unacceptable in society and the doctors will go on pressing home the point that if your object is to knock people unconscious you are going to damage the brain and that is going to inflict permanent injury. The doctors will win this argument in the end. I wish that they could win it much sooner than looks likely.
Earl Grey: My Lords, noble Lords will not be surprised if I slightly disagree with my noble friend Lord Airedale. I would like to declare that I have an interest as I am president, and my noble friend Lord Addington is vice-president, of the Lonsdale International sporting club. In my case too it is purely an honorary position. The club's aims are to promote all sports, which includes boxing, at amateur and professional level and to raise money for such organisations as the National Association of Boys' Clubs which encourage boys to have a worthwhile purpose and a role in life.
I am not going to dwell long on opposing this Bill. Most of the arguments against it have already been raised. If passed, I believe, as my noble friend Lord Addington has emphasised, that this Bill will affect amateur boxing. It will prevent money being raised at these events for charitable purposes. I agree that boxing is a rough sport. Unfortunately, boxers have been seriously hurt and, tragically, some have died. That is a well-known risk which these people take and they are fully aware of the consequences.
It is my belief that boxing must be regulated from within. I must give praise to the British Boxing Board of Control for its continuous monitoring of regulations and safeguards. As regards injuries, a body of neurological surgeons has set up a working party to examine the board's requirements relating to head injuries et cetera. Britain has a high reputation for looking into the safeguards of the sport, and I believe that that should be noted.
A great many members of the public watch these events whether on television or at the actual event itself. If there was an overwhelming feeling against the sport and if people really opposed boxing, whether amateur or professional, they would stay away and boxing bouts would lose money. That is the answer: if people do not like boxing, they do not have to watch it or be involved in any way.
Professional boxing is big business and more money is involved in it than in any other sport of which I can think. It is not surprising if a young man with ability decides to pursue boxing as a career. I am satisfied that, especially in Britain, the controls and regulations are continually being monitored and conducted responsibly.
Mention has been made of boxing going underground. In some respects it is already an underground sport in that unlicensed boxers already take part in bouts that are watched by a great many people. If boxing is banned, that will happen to an even greater extent and will be an even greater danger to those involved. I shall not class boxing with such things as cock-fighting (which takes place in my part of the world, the west country) or with badger-baiting. However, although both of those barbaric sports have been banned, it is a well-known fact that they continue.
As I have said, other sports involve a higher degree of injury and death but I hear of no moves to ban them. In many cases I would not want to do so. For a number of years I was the manager of a power boat team involved in inshore power boat racing, such as on the
Lord Meston: My Lords, I must declare an interest as an appeal steward at the British Boxing Board of Control, unhappily with the same rather negative financial consequences as those suffered by the noble Lord, Lord Brooks.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, offers the House yet another return contest for this Billa similar Bill was defeated in 1962, in 1981 and most recently on 4th December 1991. On each occasion, it was soundly defeated on points. While admiring the noble Lord's persistence, I do not admire his Bill now any more than on the last occasion. As before, the Bill seeks to create a new criminal offencethat of organising boxing for profit. I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate that before creating any new criminal offence it is necessary to think carefully about the need to do so and the consequences of so doing.
This Bill is concerned only with professional boxing, although it is not clear to me why the professional sport is singled out. Presumably there is something in the professional element of that sport which the noble Lord finds particularly distasteful
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, surely the noble Lord sees that there is a major difference between allowing people to fight each other for the sport of it and allowing society to pay them moneyoften a lot of moneyto risk their lives and those of their fellow contestants. Does he not recognise that there is a strong moral difference between the two?
Lord Meston: My Lords, I do not see that there is a major difference. There is a difference between the two sports, such as the difference in the length of the rounds. There are certain other differences. There is, of course, a difference in that there is a commercial element in professional boxing which does not exist in amateur boxing; but, as was pointed out in the 1991 debate by the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and has been pointed out this evening by, among others, my noble friend Lord Grey, the Bill's impact on the amateur sport has apparently not been properly considered. As I said, that point was raised in 1991 and there has been no attempt to deal with it in the drafting of the Bill before us tonight during the intervening three-and-a-half years or so.
The arguments for and against boxing in general, and professional boxing in particular, have not much altered, and they are unlikely to improve with age or repetition. I prefer the arguments that allow professional boxing to continue. For example, there is the argument based on the fundamental right of people to choose to enter a boxing ring knowing the risks and possible rewards. There are also the economic and social arguments based on the undoubted fact that over the years boxing has provided a living and opportunities for those from the
There are also comparative arguments. Other sports are responsible for more fatalities. During the previous debate in 1991 the then Government Minister gave figures for air sports, motor sports, mountaineering, ball games and horse riding. One can only presume that there are also relatively high levels of serious injury in such other sports. Moreover, some of those other sports endanger third-parties in a way that boxing does not. Motor sports endanger spectators, and mountaineering, potholing, and sports of that nature, endanger rescuers. Other comparisons can be made with the so-called martial arts which, with all due deference to my noble friend Lord Addington, I believe will be untouched by this Bill. Finally, there is the very strong argument that to criminalise boxing will drive it underground. Against that, it has been said tonight that apparently there is no illegal boxing in countries that have banned it. But those countries tend to be ones where there is little inherent boxing tradition. In this country, there is a long-standing, deep-rooted tradition which will defy criminalisation. We have to consider whether we want a legal sport carefully and responsibly run, as it is now, or an illegal sport without rules and safeguards that is conducted in remote and unsuitable venues.
We have within the British Boxing Board one of the best regulating bodies in the world. It always puts the interests and safety of boxers ahead of anything else. It is always alert to the latest neurological research. Without such an organisation the clock will go back. There will be no rules concerning the length and number of rounds, the size of gloves and weights of fighters. There will be no proper matchmaking, medical checks or medical scrutiny. There will be none of the contractual protection that is now provided to boxers by the board. There will be none of the high standard of alert refereeing that is required of licensed referees. Of course, in a small number of cases things go wrong. The British Boxing Board constantly seeks to ensure that there are the best possible emergency procedures on hand at all major tournaments, and that the supervision provided by its officials is of the highest vigilance. The noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, asked what had changed. What has changed is that, if anything, the procedures are even better now than in 1991.
I briefly mention the role of the appeal stewards, because that is the area with which I am most concerned. I have been involved in appeals by boxers who have had their licences revoked because it has been considered that they have lost too many fights. Likewise, I was recently involved in an appeal in which a referee of great experience and long standing was considered to have acted a little too slowly in stopping a fight. His licence was revoked. Whether or not to allow him to continue to referee was a difficult decision. It was decided, with great regret, that he should not be allowed to do so. That indicates the degree of vigilance and care provided by a properly organised sport that one will not have for an illegal sport.
I am not concernednone of us should beto give an unduly romantic view of boxing. It is a hard sport, but it is still a sport that puts a premium on skilful scoring, rather than on brute force. It is still a sport which channels aggression, rather than creates it. It is still a sport which creates respect and self-respect. It is still a sport which is conducted largely in front of essentially well-behaved crowds.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said that the object of boxing is to knock out one's opponent. Perhaps I may remind him that some of the best boxers, at all weights, have been boxers who have not always won all their fights by knock-outs. Some of the greatest boxers seldom scored a knock-out, and, with respect to my noble friend Lord Airedale, I would say that boxers at the lighter weights attract crowds which are there to admire their skill rather than their aggression.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I do not believe that he can seriously put forward that the injuries or fatalies suffered from boxing, as compared to other sports or pastimes mentioned by noble Lords, can justify the banning of boxing, whether it be boxing for financial reward or not. He takes a moral stand, and I respect that, but I do not share his views.
I am but a relatively obscure hereditary Peer with some fairly plebeian tastes. I like gambling, boxing and stand-up comics. I suppose that there is a connection among all three. I became keen on boxing as a young boy when I would get away from school on one pretext or another and go to watch the fairground booth boxers who no longer exist these days. That was stand-up comedy, if you like.
Since the noble Lord brought up the subject, the late Lady Summerskill, who was such a doughty campaigner against boxing, wrote a book called The Ignoble Art. Even at this late hour, perhaps I may get away from the main theme of the debate for a moment. The term "ignoble art" was not an idle term. It related to the 18th century when boxing, as we understand it, originated. It is a fairly modern sport. It was then something of a noble art. Unlike France and other other countries where, if disputes arose between the nobility and lesser mortals, there was likely to be a serious conflict involving weapons, we are told of many instances, particularly in the excellent work by Lord Knebwortha standard work on boxingof members of the English nobility (I am not sure about the Scottish nobility) who would settle such affairs with their fists.
There is the well-known case in the 18th century of the Duke of Grafton, who took a coach for hire and had a dispute about the faremuch as one would do outside London Airport today. Both he and the coachman took to their fists with a will. It is recorded that the Duke of Grafton won fairly and squarely. That tells us a good
Boxing for money developed at the end of the 18th century. I had an ancestormy great, great, great grandfatherwho died in a duel, I am sorry to say. I wish that he had stuck to boxing. He would gamble with his contemporaries on fights between professional pugilists who used to meet by accident, or on purpose, on various heaths where the fights took place.
The injuries which occurred in those days rarely resulted in brain damage. The reason is simple. The human fist is not made for striking the human head, which is a delicate organism. The noble Lord, Lord Brooks, who spoke so eloquently and with such knowledge, may agree that the cause of brain damage is the revolving of the head as a result of being struck by a large glove. I suggest that if one wishes to reduce such accidents one must return to using a smaller glove, but that may not be possible. There is no question of returning to bare-knuckle fighting.
I know that the sport is looking at all those issues and at all others related to injury. I watch boxing closely and I know that the medical attention that is available at professional fights has improved greatly, even during the past three years. I suggest that the unfortunate boxer recently injured in a middleweight fight may not have survived five years ago because the attention that he would have received would not have been so prompt.
Surely we do not want to drive the sport underground. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, cannot seriously believe that it will not go underground. After all, fights involving small men can attract up to 11 million television viewers. I do not believe that, in the light of such interest, professional boxing would just disappear if it were banned. With such interest it is bound to go underground or abroad where it will be beamed to television sets in this country
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