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Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord proceeds, perhaps he will clarify one point. He says that a Select Committee would have power to reject the Bill. Would it not be more accurate to say that it would have power to recommend rejection of the Bill?
Lord Brightman: My Lords, I stand to be corrected but my understanding of the rules is that if a Select Committee reports against a Bill which has been referred to it, the Bill does not proceed further. I may be wrong but that is my understanding of the Orders of the House. I shall check that.
In our last debate, we had the advantage of the presence of the president of the Lonsdale Club, the vice-president of the Lonsdale Club, the vice-president of the British Board of Boxing Control and an appeal steward of the British Board of Boxing Control. I am not certain whether they are all present tonight but I am sure that their superior knowledge and expertise would be of immense value to a Select Committee when taking evidence.
I have no committed stance against professional boxing. I have no experience of it; I have never been a spectator. I do not even watch it on television. Therefore, I cannot pretend to know the answer to the question until I have heard the evidence and seen what report a Select Committee produces.
I do not attach very much weight to the argument so often advanced that to ban professional boxing would merely drive it underground or abroad. The same argument can be advanced against the banning of cock fighting, bear fighting and dog fighting but no one wishes to see those pastimes legalised.
Again, I do not attach much weight to the fact that there are more deaths in motor racing, mountain climbing, point to point racing, ocean sailing, hang-gliding and other exciting and dangerous sports than there are in boxing. In none of those activities is one contestant endeavouring to inflict a physical injury on his opponent. In my view, that is the question mark which stands over professional boxing. Since duelling
My noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant put his name down to speak in this debate. Unfortunately, he is not able to be present so we are deprived of his great knowledge of head injuries. However, he has authorised me to say that had he been here he would have supported strongly the proposal that the Bill should go to a Select Committee for evidence and a report. My noble friend has also authorised me to quote from the speech he made in 1991. Among other things, he said:
I submit respectively that the responsible course for this House to take is to grant the Bill a Second Reading so that it can be sent to a Select Committee under arrangements which will fall to be considered by the Liaison Committee.
I earnestly hope that the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, will, in the circumstances, feel able to withdraw his amendment that the Bill be read a second time in six months and that the Bill will therefore be given a Second Reading. If that is done, it will not be a victory for the anti-boxing lobby; it will be a victory for common sense. I also hope that any newspaper which sees fit to report our debate this evening will not say, if a Second Reading is granted, that the anti-boxing lobby has at last won. That would be quite untrue. There has been so much discussion and comment in the press, and elsewhere, about professional boxing that I feel we have a duty to look at the topic and not be seen to dismiss criticism out of hand.
I shall have no further right to speak in the debate after I sit down. Therefore, perhaps I may explain why I intend not to move my Motion if the Bill is given a Second Reading. I tabled my Motion for commitment to a Select Committee in order that the House might debate the merits of that course of action. However, under our current procedure, I am advised that it is ultimately a matter for the Liaison Committee to express its view as to whether it is appropriate and practical for the Bill to be committed to a Select Committee. Pressure of business and availability of resources are relevant to that question.
Accordingly, if noble Lords give the Bill a Second Reading--as I so much hope they will--I shall not move my Motion this evening in the hope that the Liaison Committee will recommend re-commitment to a Select Committee.
Lord Airedale: My Lords, having listened to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, I hope that the noble Earl will not press his Motion to throw out the Bill and that he will accept that it is highly desirable at present to have a Select Committee so that this most important matter can be considered.
I have to apologise to the House for having been wrong on the last occasion that we held one of these debates. I suggested that it was the heavyweights that caused the damage. I was wrong about that because the recent disgraceful scenes in Glasgow which ended in tragedy arose out of a contest between lightweights. Apparently the weight of the contestants does not come into it; a fatal or serious injury can result from a lightweight fight exactly as it can from a heavyweight fight.
Comparison between the deliberate violence of the boxing ring and the accidental violence in a contact sport is totally irrelevant; indeed, the two things really do not come together in any way. I believe that the noble and learned Lord made that point. I cannot but think that even primitive man, on observing the human body and the bony hard skull at one end of it and nowhere else, must surely have realised that there was something rather special inside the skull which needed to be specially tended.
Now that doctors have much more sophisticated ideas about what goes on inside the bony skull, we must listen to them. Doctors are not squeamish or faint-hearted people. When rugger matches, university rags or, indeed, boat race nights take place, medical students will be found right in the thick of it. Therefore, when doctors start telling us that there is something very serious and dangerous going on in the boxing ring, we really need to pay attention to them.
We have been told about the "undergrounding" of boxing--if I may use that expression. Indeed, that has been mentioned this evening. It was also referred to by my noble friend Lord Falkland on the last occasion that we debated the matter. My noble friend was interrupted during his speech by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, (and we look forward to hearing from the noble Lord later) who asked:
Further, what are the police doing? Do they conduct all their activities upon the surface? Do they never delve into what goes on underground? It is hard to believe that the police can be unaware or unmindful of boxing matches going on underground to any great extent.
I turn now to the tragedy in Glasgow which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned. In that respect, I believe that every spectator needs to say to himself, "If I and my fellow spectators didn't enjoy as entertainment watching two young men trying to bash each other into
Lord Howell: My Lords, although I shall vote against the Bill, I want to express my appreciation to my noble friend for allowing us the opportunity to discuss some of the issues involved. There are rational arguments to be considered on both sides of the question. I am well aware of the considerations forcefully put before us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. However, I am bound to say to the noble and learned Lord that it seems to me to be an extraordinary procedure--and I am not quite sure if we are to vote on the amendment before or after the Second Reading vote--to state that we want a Select Committee to examine all the arguments about boxing and that we will decide the issue on the Second Reading of a Bill of one clause, such as that now before the House.
I can understand that the Government may wish to hold an inquiry into boxing. When I had some responsibility for sport I held inquiries into football but I established those inquiries in the way in which that is normally done, with proper terms of reference. I did not set up an inquiry, as it were, as an adjunct of a one-clause Bill, in the way that is now being proposed. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, will consider whether, if he wants a Select Committee or an inquiry to consider this matter, this is the appropriate way to bring that about. I honestly do not think that it is.
I wish to comment briefly on the remarkable suggestion that injuries caused in other sports are brought about by accidental fouls. I can assure the House on the basis of my 20 odd years' experience as a football referee that in the laws of football there is no such thing as an accidental foul. A foul is committed intentionally. I am bound to say with great regret that much intentional fouling occurs today in football, rugby and other sports. That is a sad situation. Let us not think that intentional injuries are being caused in boxing but not in other sports. People who believe that are living in Cloud-cuckoo-land. I do not believe that that is an argument in favour--
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