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Lord Renton: My Lords, has the noble Viscount considered the fact that if it were to go underground there would be no hope of the large rewards being made to professional boxers?

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that the rewards available to boxers would not be so large. Indeed, one of the aspects of professional boxing which I do not like is the enormous amount of money in the game. One must watch that most carefully. Perhaps the Minister in summing up will comment on that aspect. Where there are large pools of money and gamblers—and I know something about them—there is likely to be some skulduggery sooner or later. However, the authorities which control boxing watch that closely too.

I have nothing further to say on the subject. I enjoy boxing as do millions of other people. I do not take a moral stand about it and I do not feel inferior tonight because I do not have a moral reaction to it. I conclude by saying that if your Lordships want to hear about real violence they should ask a policeman how much violence he sees on Friday and Saturday nights as a

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result of the misuse of alcohol. How much enthusiasm do we have in this House for the control of the misuse of alcohol? How many impassioned speeches, such as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, do we hear on that subject? There are other areas that we can usefully look at to deal with violence.

10.49 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, there is a certain nostalgia about this debate. I came back into the Chamber especially to listen to it. To my personal knowledge, we have had such debates for more than 45 years. It is interesting—

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, is the noble Lord seeking to speak in the gap?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, have I done something wrong?

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, there is a list of speakers. Is the noble Lord seeking to speak in the gap?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, is there a gap?

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, no, the noble Lord has missed it.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, while the list of speakers is something I support, and it makes this House particularly good, it is not absolutely sacrosanct. What is sacrosanct is that when a debate is taking place which is of some importance to the nation, every Member who is legitimately entitled to be here shall be free to express his point of view. That is what I am doing.

I merely wish to say that this is not a new subject. But what is new is that all noble Lords who have spoken are male. I used to enjoy these debates—and the arguments used were very similar—when Lady Summerskill on the one side and Mrs. Braddock on the other really showed us what knuckle-fighting was all about. I am delighted that my noble friend is to put the distaff side of the argument when she winds up the debate.

Baroness Trumpington: Am I Mrs. Braddock?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lord, my noble friend asks whether she is Mrs. Braddock. She was a noble person who made a great contribution to Parliament over the past fifty years. My noble friend is also a noble person who has made a great contribution to our parliamentary procedures.

I felt that Mrs. Braddock always won the argument. I believe that her argument is as strong today as it was then; namely, that an organised sport is to be preferred to a disorganised sport. If this Bill is allowed to proceed as currently drafted, it is quite obvious, as it was 50 years ago, that the sport will not cease. We shall merely replace an organised sport with a disorganised sport. That would not be good from any point of view.

10.51 p.m.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, raised for us the appalling spectre of

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female violence in institutions. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned policemen on a Friday night and other forms of violence. I do not know whether he has ever witnessed women's hockey. I have played virtually every sport that it is legal to play but I have never had the courage even to watch that.

I should stress that when I speak on boxing I am speaking personally, since your Lordships will be surprised to learn that the Labour Party has no official policy on the subject. I have discussed the matter formally with Labour's national heritage team. I know that what I say is in accordance with the views of my honourable friend in another place, the Shadow spokesman in the Commons, Tom Pendry. Both Tom Pendry and I boxed when younger. I believe that he did so for longer and certainly more successfully than I did. Some noble Lords may feel that my boxing experience is itself sufficient evidence of the brain damage risk involved.

There has long been anxiety about the medical aspects of boxing, which so genuinely concern my noble friend. When I was a founding member of the original Sports Council in the late 1960s chaired by my noble friend Lord Howell, we had long discussions on the subject led by Sir Roger Bannister, himself a distinguished neurologist. Like the country as a whole, we shared the anxiety but were divided as to what to do about it. I believe that there was a firm majority against banning the sport and I think that that would still be the view across society.

I have noticed that such concern becomes more active whenever there is a highly-publicised injury or fatality. As we have heard, Bills to ban boxing came before the House unsuccessfully in 1962, 198l and 199l. Public concern was recently revived, as my noble friend pointed out, by the disabling injuries suffered by Gerald McLellan earlier this year against Nigel Benn. Before that, we remember Michael Watson against Chris Eubank. In the previous 15 years, Britain has seen the deaths of Johnny Owen, Steve Watts and Bradley Stone—a total, I believe, of 14 deaths in the 50 years since the war. I saw all of those recent fights on television and can vouch for how disturbing the experience can be.

The public is understandably concerned. However, there is an enormous difference between expressing concern and wishing sport to be safer—which I do—and actually taking the vast step to ban boxing. I do not believe that the facts justify that step. Thousands of sportsmen participate in boxing each year, the vast majority of whom never get near a professional championship or even a professional ring, never earn much money, and, indeed, never suffer serious related injuries. Especially in socially-deprived areas, boxing has always provided for many young boys a focus, a purpose, and a sense of achievement and self-respect. It often provides the first discipline in their lives which they willingly accept. Anyone who has seen the boys' boxing clubs in the deprived areas of our cities, as I have done, will know the truth and value of that.

Admittedly, boxing is, as has been said, a hard and demanding physical sport. It involves some physical risk. As was pointed out at the beginning of the debate,

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it is also unusual in that one of its objectives is to try to knock unconscious the opponent. That fact has always troubled me. However, it is not the only objective and most fights do not end that way. Certainly more would end that way if boxing were officially banned and driven underground, where fights would often be timeless until a knock-out took place, and without proper refereeing and medical supervision.

I should point out to my noble friend that boxing is not like cock fighting. Cocks do not choose to do it: boxers do. No one compels boxers to fight or spectators to watch boxing. If people are deeply offended by it on television, I recommend that they exercise their fundamental right to switch it off.

On the question of injuries and fatalities we must also, as others have done, set boxing in the context of other sports. Boxing injuries are usually highly publicised because they are witnessed on television by millions of viewers. But other less publicised sports are actually more dangerous. For example, fatalities and injuries in motor sports and water sports far exceed those in boxing.

I have heard it said that there are even more such injuries in fishing. That may arise from fishermen being pushed into the water by those animal rights terrorists.

More climbers were killed in the Scottish Cairngorms in 1994 than the total number of professional and amateur boxers killed since the war. So, as has been asked: do we ban climbing? Rugby football has a worrying injuries and fatalities record, especially in schools, which led to the recent public expressions of concern by the Stoke Mandeville Hospital for special injuries. I believe that more schoolboys are seriously injured playing rugby than is the case with boxing. But do we ban rugby in schools? As a former rugby player, often injured, I would certainly oppose that.

On a more general level, I should like to add that I find somewhat distasteful the growing fashion in some political quarters which I shall not specify to ban anything which upsets anyone, whether it is country sports—fishing, hunting, shooting, coursing—or cigarette smoking, though I personally practise none of them. I have a fear that sex will be somewhere next on the list.

This is a slippery slope which we know we must resist. This puritanical, politically correct—not that I would accuse my noble friend of anything as foolish as that because we know his concern is personal and genuine—way of thinking, imposing personal attitudes on the way others choose to lead their lives and take risks (what I call a kind of McCarthyism of the Left), is not attractive. Perhaps we should think about banning all bans.

Having got that off my hairy chest, I want to see the boxing authorities do everything possible to protect the health of boxers. The British Boxing Board of Control, which contains three distinguished parliamentarians, including my noble friend Lord Brooks, has introduced many regulations and procedures to reduce the risk of serious injury in professional boxing, for example, the annual medical examinations, including brain scans;

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medical examinations before and after a fight; and fully equipped ambulances, which almost certainly, as has been said, saved Gerald McLellan's life.

Perhaps more can be done. Perhaps referees can be instructed to stop fights sooner. Perhaps fights should be stopped after two knock downs, not three, of eight seconds a round. I am not convinced that headgear will help. It prevents cuts but impedes vision and does not necessarily reduce concussion. I note that soccer players head the football as often as boxers get punched. Are we to ban heading at football?

Insurance compensation for damaged boxers is another area where I believe improvements could be made. At present I believe—certainly this was the case when evidence was given to the Select Committee—that the maximum insurance compensation for a fatality is around £40,000 and for a disabling injury there is no insurance compensation, just a small benevolent fund. That is totally inadequate in my view. An industry which receives £12 million a year from television could devote more to compensation for the men who put themselves at risk to generate it. I believe the British Boxing Board of Control should take urgent steps at least to quadruple insurance compensation. It says it receives none of the promotion millions, and that is true, but it could stipulate that compensation payments be made as a condition for giving assent to a boxing tournament.

I reiterate that I share the concern of my noble friend, but I believe that banning is unjustified. It would be illogical given the greater danger in other sports. It would be dictatorial given the fact that no one forces men to box. Like mountain climbers, they have a right to take risks. Seventeen million viewers recently watched a boxing match on television. Are they all wrong? Is the puritan minority right? Should we ban their right to enjoy this pleasure? I think not.

11.3 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I can do no better at this time of night than to emulate my noble friend Lord Oxfuird when I quote what Byron said of his mother-in-law; namely, that she had lost the art of conversation but not, alas, the power of speech.

First of all, I should like your Lordships to know that the Government cannot support this Bill. I should also like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to be aware that of course we share the views of those who are concerned about the safety of boxers though we do not believe that the sport should be banned.

Some of your Lordships have recalled a most stimulating debate on boxing on 4th December 1991, when the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, last called for a ban on professional boxing. The Government's view on boxing remains as it was then. We believe strongly that in a free society—which this country thankfully enjoys—individuals should have the freedom to participate in the sport of their choice so long as it is within the law and they are fully aware of the risks involved. It is paramount that the element of risk attached to boxing is controllable and that the proper medical safeguards are in place.

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In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I should like to say that I am well aware of the BMA's report published in 1993. I should like to highlight the fact that the British Boxing Board of Control's medical safeguards are among the most rigorous in the world and are constantly under review. Following meetings at the end of 1991 between the then Minister for Sport, the BBBC and a number of medical specialists, the BBBC not only strengthened its medical safeguards but converted them into firm regulations.

In answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, the professional sport is, of course, driven in part by financial considerations, but the British Boxing Board of Control is there to ensure that money is not of primary importance but that safety is paramount. The Government are confident that the BBBC's medical safeguards do all that is possible to ensure the boxers' safety.

The BBBC continues to review its research on methods of continual assessment of brain functions to detect possible chronic deterioration that may occur during a boxer's career. It has now extended the scheme, which was originally piloted in Wales and which aims to minimise acute brain injury by the compulsory attendance of an anaesthetist with the necessary equipment at the ringside. Indeed, John Sutcliffe, the neurosurgeon who operated after the Benn/McLellan fight, said that he believed that the introduction of those improvements helped to save the boxer's life.

The Government believe that there is absolutely no case for singling out boxing for a ban. To ban boxing would drive the sport underground and remove from boxers the very important safeguards which now protect them. Furthermore, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that, as my noble friend Lord Oxfuird and the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, said, even if boxing were banned in this country boxers could still compete anywhere overseas—which is what Swedish boxers did when boxing was banned in Sweden. It is important to note that medical safeguards in other countries may not be as stringent as in this country.

Let me deal first with the question of fatalities. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, will be interested in my update of the figures given in the last debate. Figures provided by coroners to the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show that from 1986 to 1992 there were fortunately only three deaths in England and Wales from boxing. In the same period there were 77 deaths in motor sports; 69 in air sports; 54 in mountaineering; 40 in ball games; 28 in horse riding. Alas, I am unable to inform the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, as to how nearly he dices with death when he rides his motorbike, but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, appreciates that both ends of horses spell danger.

The Government have no hesitation in accepting that, sadly, there are instances where long-term medical problems can be attributable to boxing. However, boxing is not unique in that respect. The simple fact is that there is a risk attached to any physically challenging activity, and to remove the risk would for the most part remove the challenge itself.

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No one can be complacent about the issue of boxing safety. The Government believe strongly that the utmost attention must be paid to safety, not only in boxing but in all sports where risk is a factor.

I was very interested in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, about insurance. How about an injured boxers' fund as with jockeys? Perhaps we could explore that possibility a little further. That is a personal note which I should probably not have included in this speech.

It is recognised that, like any physical contact sport, boxing has an element of risk. What is paramount is that the element of risk is controllable and containable. Medical safeguards are already in place to protect the health and safety of boxers before, during and after contests and to monitor boxers for long-term medical problems. There are a great many medical examinations which I could list for your Lordships, but, again, I am well aware of the time of night. I believe that noble Lords are aware of the extremely severe medical precautions which are taken not only at the ringside but before and after a boxer enters the ring.

Some claim that boxing is repugnant and morally wrong in that the sport deliberately encourages individuals to inflict injury to each other. This is a matter of judgment. However, let me make a couple of points very clear. Boxers in this country compete within the strictest medical safeguards and regulations imposed by reputable governing bodies. They do so under their own free will and within a sporting code that emphasises skill rather than aggression. Furthermore, boxers pose no threat to the general public.

I hope that I have convinced your Lordships that while the Government are not complacent about safety issues in boxing, we believe that it would be a gross infringement of civil liberties to deprive individuals from participating in a properly constituted sport of their choice. I hope that I have also persuaded your Lordships that there is clear evidence that the boxing authorities in this country are determined to continue to make the sport as safe as possible.

11.11 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. Many of the issues were also discussed in an earlier debate to which there has been reference. Indeed, some of the speeches—including my own, I suspect—had distinct similarity to those in an earlier debate.

Let me say this to your Lordships: we shall be back. As the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said, this is a continuing debate. With the assistance and encouragement of the British Medical Association, and all our medical advisers, we shall continue to campaign against this sport.

It is said that the Bill is an infringement of personal liberty. I was interested in the speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, about the Duke of Grafton and others. An article in The Times recently by an eminent QC under the heading, "What's so special about boxing?", takes us back to 1981. The article states:

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    "Lord Lane, then the Lord Chief Justice, stated on behalf of the Court of Appeal that it was a criminal assault for a man to punch another during a fist fight in the street, even though each of them consented to the fight as a means of settling a dispute".

In this country it is illegal for any man to go out and have a fight in the street with another man. But it is not illegal if it occurs in a boxing ring; the man can punch the other fellow as hard as he likes. There is something wrong with that situation. If it is an infringement of the rights of people—they should not punch each other on the street corner—can we defend such a restriction as a prohibition on the rights of the individual? We must consider the argument very seriously. I include the argument that one would drive boxing underground. What way is that to make legislation—that if we pass such a law one would drive the issue underground? That is protecting the criminal. It is not respect for the law and the judgment of the country.

Let us not exaggerate the argument about driving the issue underground. Professional boxing thrives on the glamour, excitement, television coverage and the large amounts of money spent. I include the £50 million or £60 million that will be spent on the promotion of this criminal, Mike Tyson, who is about to descend on us in this country. Is that the mark of a civilised society? I ask noble Lords to ask themselves this question. Supposing Mike Tyson arrives here and knocks a man unconscious, or even kills a man, in the ring, which he is quite capable of doing, would noble Lords feel pleased and proud at that? I do not think so.

Let me say a final word. It is not a defence to say that something might be driven underground. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made a very interesting contribution. He said that the Bill was badly drafted and could be changed. That is what we are talking about; we are not talking about motor racing, mountaineering or any other sport. We are talking about a simple Bill to which we want to give a Second Reading. That would enable the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to define more clearly the purposes of the Bill, if he feels that its drafting is inadequate and wrong. That is all that we are asking: that this Bill be given a Second Reading so that we can examine the full implications of it.

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