HC Deb 21 December 1960 vol 632 cc1307-14

12.7 p.m.

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit professional boxing. I have sufficient faith in the good sense and understanding of hon. Members on both sides of the House to know that my critical attitude to boxing will receive some measure of support. I would recall to hon. Members who were here about 10 years ago that when I raised this matter then the opposition was such that I could not make myself heard. I believe that public opinion is changing, and one reason is due to the fact that television has enabled people to see in their own living rooms two men engaged in violent combat, and consequently this has focussed attention on the subject that I am raising today.

Supporters of boxing argue that other sports, including Rugby football, are equally dangerous. This argument cannot survive examination. In the first place, the primary objective in football is to score points and not to render one's opponent insensible. Of all the major sports, boxing occupies a special position, since the aim is to produce injuries, more particularly to the brain. In the limited time at my disposal, I want to emphasise that I am not alone in my attitude. I have the most powerful medical support. I could quote eminent people in the medical profession, but I will limit myself today to a quotation from the leader in The Lancet, a famous medical journal, in June, 1959. That leader stated: Boxing has been condemned by official ringside judges, by sports writers and by boxers of the first rank, as well as by responsible medical writers. And yet not only is nothing done to end this evil, but official bodies such as the B.B.C. extend the spectacle to ever-widening audiences, including children. The medical opinion against boxing is now so strong that as doctors we have a clear duty to fight for its total abolition.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)


Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Dr. Summerskill

If I might just conclude this part of my argument—

Mrs. Braddock

Would the right hon. Lady also read the letter from Mr. J. W. Graham in reply to the article in the Lancet?

Dr. Summerskill

I am trying to quote some absolutely objective authorities. A few skilled experts may escape, but after about fifty fights in a few years the ordinary fighter begins to show unmistakable signs of deterioration. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite are giving me my case without my having to make a speech. The boxer then fails to time his blows properly because the damage to his brain has caused cerebral atrophy. His defence is inadequate and he is soon a back number. The great tragedy, however, is his loss of mental health, his capacity to concentrate and, very often, to co-ordinate his movements and to hold down a responsible job. No amount of medical inspection can make the sense organs less vulnerable or the bone of the temple any thicker.

It is generally agreed that no instrument has yet been invented which can detect the small haemorrhages and the torn fibres of the brain which a boxer sustains in the course of a fight and which, if repeated over the years, produce the condition of punch-drunkenness. When the symptoms appear it is too late to hope that a rest will result in a cure. These injuries do not heal and the destruction of the brain cells is permanent. The frontal lobes which are damaged in this way are those parts which control man's highest functions, namely, his power to co-ordinate his movements, to restrain his impulses and to exercise his power of self-control.

It is argued that individuals watching fights which are accompanied by hysterical yells as the pace quickens and the contestants show signs of wear and tear are worthy men who should be allowed to enjoy their leisure as they think fit. The fact is that the circumstances of a fight unleash sadistic impulses, which are revealed in the ugly behaviour which so often accompanies a prize fight. I would remind the House that cock-fighting was prohibited not for the sake of the cock but because such a display caters to the basest instincts and is calculated to deprave the onlookers.

Can anybody sensibly suggest that the screaming crowd round a boxing ring is having implanted in it the fine qualities of pluck, endurance and restraint? We are told by those in this business that the sole object in view is to give the spectators a display of a sport regulated by rules calculated to ensure the maximum enjoyment of boxing techniques. If that is so, why are these bouts accompanied in the newspapers and on the radio by a commentary deliberately phrased to emphasise the brutal element?

I appeal to hon. Members on both sides to recognise that it is of the utmost importance to control by example the destructive impulse. Our prisons today are overfull of young men guilty of physical assault. This is not a problem peculiar to Britain. Other countries have recognised the harmful effect of these displays. Iceland has led the world and has set an example by making boxing illegal, and powerful anti-boxing movements in Sweden and Belgium have succeeded in introducing certain regulations. One cannot speak too strongly about the pernicious example set to adolescent youth who week after week in their own homes watch violent scenes glamourising brutality which yet have official sanction.

Has not the time arrived when Parliament should take steps to protect our young people from the men who organise these displays on highly profitable business lines? Today I am asking permission to introduce a Bill in order that the whole question may be examined.

12.16 p.m.

Lieut. - Colonel W. H. Bromley -Davenport (Knutsford)

While I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), I could not help feeling that she was living in the past—in a bygone age. The conditions she has described may have existed forty years ago, when there was no British Boxing Board of Control, but they simply do not exist today. As a member of the Board, the best thing I can do is to describe how it controls boxing and avoids all the evils alleged by the right hon. Lady.

The Board has authority to issue licences, at its absolute discretion, to all persons connected in any way with professional boxing—boxers, promoters, managers, referees, trainers, seconds, and so on—and without a current licence no one can officiate in any capacity at a professional boxing tournament. The Board functions from London and is assisted in its duties by eight area councils, spread over the whole country and Northern Ireland. Each council has an expert medical staff.

Every applicant for a boxer's licence is subjected to a comprehensive medical examination, and if he is fit he is granted a licence. Boxers must be examined before and after every contest, and if a boxer is knocked out he must be medically examined before he even contracts to box again. Unless a boxer gets a certificate of absolute fitness from his area medical officer his licence is suspended until he is fit, and, if necessary, it is withdrawn altogether. In the event of a knock-out, all officials have a complete knowledge of first aid.

There are two types of knock-out. There is the reflex, and there is the state of concussion resulting from a series of blows. All the evidence available shows that recovery from the former is complete and almost immediate and that, with rest and abstention from boxing, complete recovery also takes place in the latter case. Nevertheless, we know that rare cases occur when even the medical experts may pass a boxer fit although he is not quite fit and may be suffering from some very mild form of concussion. If that happens, the moment he fights again the expert from the B.B.B.C. who attends will detect at once that the man is not quite fit, and the result will be immediate suspension. In any case, after rest complete recovery takes place, and it is unfounded speculation to say that the evil effects may show themselves years later.

Other measures we have to control boxing are the limiting of the number of contests in which boxers may take part and the limiting of the number of rounds in which young people can take part during a contest. There is the prohibition of foul blows in the ring such as those to the back of the head or the kidneys. These measures, together with instructions to referees about stopping fights in time to avoid unnecessary or undue punishment—which, incidentally, have the full support of the so-called brutal public—have eliminated the possibility of any permanent brain damage.

To sum up the arguments against the contention of those who oppose professional boxing on the ground of possible serious injury, I will quote these simple figures. Among nearly 100,000 boxers during the past 14 years there have been only four fatal accidents and only six serious eye injuries. As regards delayed or permanent injury due to concussion, I challenge the right hon. Lady to produce examples of such cases. If she can, for every example that she produces to support her case the British Boxing Board of Control will produce 1,000 against, provided that she pays for the expenses.

Why single out boxing from other sports which people enjoy? What about motor racing and the gallant drivers of racing vehicles who kill or damage themselves and who sometimes even kill spectators? What about their multiple injuries? What about swimming? I have known people to be so inconsiderate as to go in for a bathe in the sea and drown themselves in the briny. Are we to stop that sort of thing? What about mountain climbing? There are people who risk their lives in order to go and look at the top of a mountain. They need not go and do that. I can tell them in advance what they will find when they get there; all they will see will be rocks and snow. One could go on for ever quoting examples of sports which are dangerous to the public. If we go far enough and follow the thing to its logical conclusion, playing for absolute safety, we shall finish by being allowed to play only dumb-crambo and tiddleywinks.

There is another aspect to the subject, the benefit to the young. Boxing keeps them fit. It keeps them off the streets. It takes them away from their flick-knives and smoking and puts them into the gymnasium. It is there that they develop self-reliance, self-control, courage and chivalry, and the ability to keep their tempers. They learn another very important thing, that if they have to fight they must fight in one place only, in the ring, against an evenly matched opponent.

Boxing is the most popular sport on television and I refute the right hon. Lady's suggestion that our public is becoming sadistic. I have done my best to show how we on the British Board of Boxing Control avoid all the evils alleged by the right hon. Lady and to defend professional boxing which others are trying to destroy. How easy it is to pull something down. It is not so easy to build it up again.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

What about amateur boxing?

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley - Davenport

I want professional boxing to stand on its own merits.

Members of the British Boxing Board of Control have long practical experience in boxing and they are assisted by some of the best brains in the medical profession. Not one of us would control a sport which we felt was harmful to others. Although I know how genuine and sincere the right hon. Lady is, it is the "holier than thou" attitude which we find so nauseating.

As for the medical profession itself, every year the hospitals hold their own boxing championships, and these are attended by all branches of the medical profession. Would medical men support these shows if they thought that they were harmful to others? As my final friendly little blow across the Chamber, I will now cite the instance of the Annual Convention of the British Medical Association this year which was attended by some of the best medical brains in the world. A proposal similar to that put forward by the right hon. Lady was overwhelmingly defeated on that occasion. I ask hon. and right hon. Members of all parties in the House of Commons to do likewise today.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motion for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House Divided: Ayes 17, Noes 120.

Division No. 32.] AYES [12.26 p.m.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Millan, Bruce Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Hart, Mrs. Judith Paget, R. T. Thorpe, Jeremy
Hayman, F. H. Parker, John (Dagenham) Whitlock, William
Houghton, Douglas Plummer, Sir Leslie
Mackie, John Redhead, E. C. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Stonehouse, John Dr. Summerskill and
Manuel, A. C. Swain, Thomas Mr. Robert Edwards.
Ashton, Sir Hubert Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey
Barlow, Sir John Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Oakshott, Sir Hendrie
Biggs-Davison, John Hastings, S. Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bossom, Clive Hay, John Osborn, John (Hallam)
Bourne-Arton, A. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Page, John (Harrow, West)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John Hendry, Forbes Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hicks Beach, Maj. W. Partridge, E.
Bryan, Paul Hiley, Joseph Pearson, Frank (Ciltheroe)
Bullard, Denys Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Pitt, Miss Edith
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Pott, Percivall
Burden, F. A. Hocking, Philip N. Price, David (Eastleigh)
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Holt, Arthur Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho
Channon, H. P. G. Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Chichester-Clark, R. Howard, John (Southampton, Test) Rippon, Geoffrey
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Hughes-Young, Michael Russell, Ronald
Corfield, F. V. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Scott-Hopkins, James
Costain, A. P. Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Sharples, Richard
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Kerr, Sir Hamilton Shepherd, William
Critchley, Julian Kershaw, Anthony Simon, Sir Jocelyn
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Kirk, Peter Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Cunningham, Knox Leather, E. H. C. Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher
Currie, G. B. H. Lilley, F. J. P. Speir, Rupert
Dance, James Linstead, Sir Hugh Studholme, Sir Henry
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Teeling, William
Deedes, W. F. Longbottom, Charles Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)
de Ferranti, Basil Loveys, Walter H. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter
Doughty, Charles MacArthur, Ian van Straubenzee, W. R.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John McLaren, Martin Vane, W. M. F.
Eden, John McLean, Neil (Inverness) Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis
Elliot, Capt. W. (Carshalton) McMaster, Stanley R. Wall, Patrick
Emery, Peter Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley) Watts, James
Farey-Jones, F. W. Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest Wells, John (Maidstone)
Fisher, Nigel Mathew, Robert (Honiton) Whitelaw, William
Gibson-Watt, David Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.) Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Godber, J. B. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wise, A. R.
Goodhew, Victor Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Woodnutt, Mark
Gower, Raymond Mellish, R. J.
Gresham Cooke, R. More, Jasper (Ludlow) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Griffiths, W. (Exchange) Neave, Airey Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport
and Mrs. Braddock.

Motion made, Question proposed,That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Redmayne.]

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members will notice that we have lost some time for the Adjournment debates. I thought that the fairest way of dealing with the matter would be to prune each subject a little, with the aid of the House, so that we may restore the fair proportion of time.