HC Deb 04 April 1995 vol 257 cc1531-6 3.41 pm
Mr. Jim Callaghan (Heywood and Middleton)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ban the sport of boxing. As a young sports teacher many years ago, I always had doubts about the merits of boxing, having seen the state of a former Manchester world champion; but it was when I saw the plight of Muhammud Ali that I became totally convinced of the terrible tragedies and hazards connected with professional boxing. He was and is known as "the greatest", but in my view he is the greatest advertisement for the necessity of an independent Government inquiry to investigate the safety of boxing.

It is said that Ali has Parkinson's disease, and that his condition is not due to boxing, but my videos of his latest fight suggest otherwise. I have with me an Evening Standard report that claims that he received 29,000 blows to the head. I do not know whether that is an exaggeration, but I do know that he took one blow too many.

Given the medical condition of another professional boxer, Michael Watson, following a contest between him and Chris Eubank, I asked the Minister responsible for sport for his views and intentions regarding the dangers of professional boxing. On 23 June 1993, I asked the Secretary of State for National Heritage whether he had received a copy of the British Medical Association's book, "The Boxing Debate", which reported in detail the medical risks associated with boxing, and whether he intended to set up an independent inquiry. I also asked the Prime Minister, during Prime Minister's questions, if he would ban boxing. The answer has always been the same.

On 10 May 1994, I succeeded in obtaining an Adjournment Debate on brain injuries in boxing. I based my speech on the BMA's book. The BMA wants boxing to be banned, and in 1982 it declared: in view of the proven ocular and brain damage resulting from professional boxing the BMA should campaign for its abolition. In 1987, the BMA stated: In view of the continuing serious ill effects on the health of boxers the BMA should pursue the Government with renewed vigour until there is a ban on boxing. In 1992, it again called for a ban on boxing, and in 1993, it produced its book "The Boxing Debate", which states that the heaviest blows may represent as much as half a tonne—which is like being hit by a 12 lb padded wooden mallet travelling at 20 mph. That is enough force and velocity to injure any brain.

The report says that there are two main ways in which boxing may lead to structural damage to the brain. The first type of damage occurs as an acute episode, in which one or more severe blows during a single fight lead to a loss of consciousness and, occasionally, to death. Death in the ring, or in the days or weeks following the contest is usually attributed to acute haemorrhage of the brain.

The second kind of damage tends to develop over a much longer period and is cumulative. It is associated with chronic neurological disorders that are often experienced by boxers. Damage to the eye and brain occurs in both amateur and professional boxers, although it is doubtful whether participants or others involved in boxing fully appreciate the risks, especially the dangers of delayed, cumulative brain damage.

Damage can be detected only after it has occurred, and by then it may be too late. It has been too late for 361 boxers whose deaths have been recorded worldwide since 1945. In the United Kingdom, it has been too late for the following boxers. In 1969, Ulrich Regis died after fighting Joe Bugner. In 1979, Angelo Jacopucci died after fighting Alan Minter. In 1980, Johnny Owen, aged 24, died after fighting Lupe Pintor. In 1982, Young Ali died after fighting Barry McGuigan. In 1986, Steve Watt died after fighting Rocky Kelly. In 1987, Joe Sticklen died in his first fight. In 1988, Brian Baronet died fighting Kenny Vice. In 1989, Rod Douglas had to have brain surgery; he will never fight again.

In 1989, Roy Hodgson died. In 1991, Michael Watson fought Eubank. We know that Michael Watson is in a wheelchair, having had brain surgery. In 1994, Bradley Stone, aged 23, died. In 1994, Michael Bentt went into hospital after fighting Herbie Hide. He will not fight again. In 1995, we had the most recent case, involving the McClellan v. Nigel Benn contest. Three amateurs, one in Liverpool, one in London and one in Margate, have all had brain surgery.

From those statistics alone, it can be said that prevention is better than cure, particularly when the disease in question is incurable. The virility, or any other virtue, shown by one man hitting another on the head in a boxing ring cannot transform the act into an accident. The blows are intended. Hitting one another is deliberate. That point, no matter how trite, distinguishes boxing from all other sports. The prime intention is to knock out one's opponent before he has a chance to inflict a knock-out blow on the other boxer.

Before his recent fight, Gerald McClellan said: You have to go to war and in war you have to be prepared to die. That is what boxing is. We all know that Gerald got his war, and that, tragically, he paid the price in his savage bout with Nigel Benn. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members in the House today in saying that we all wish him well now that he has survived a life-threatening injury and been flown back to the United States of America to be with his family. I doubt whether he will fight again.

I am sure that the House will also want to send its full appreciation to Mr. John Sutcliffe, the neurosurgeon who operated so successfully on Gerald McClellan. He has saved his life. Although it may surprise hon. Members, I also give credit to the British Boxing Board of Control, which has made important safety improvements in boxing since learning the lessons from the Watson-Eubank fight. Perhaps it read the suggestions I made in my Adjournment debate on 10 May 1994. It had four doctors, paramedics and ambulances at the McClellan-Benn fight. The speed with which oxygen was administered to the stricken boxer saved his life.

Despite all those necessary reforms, further calamities will occur. I was deeply concerned when, after the Gerald McClellan fight, I read in the press that many 11-year-old children were getting ready for their first bouts. The "kid gloves" scheme at Croxteth community school has put boxing back in schools. The Minister with responsibility for sport has confirmed that the school is receiving financial support from the Sports Council and Sportsmatch.

From a recent parliamentary question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), a neurosurgeon, we learned that Sportsmatch contributed £5,000 to the scheme. It is ludicrous for the Minister to argue that the scheme involves a "non-contact" form of boxing, and that its purpose is to teach children the skills and discipline of boxing without hitting an opponent. How ridiculous.

Over a number of years, I have asked various Ministers to initiate an independent inquiry into the health risks associated with boxing, all of which have been highlighted by the BMA in its various reports on boxing.

I have been told that the Government did not believe that the risks associated with boxing were sufficient to justify such an inquiry. I deeply regret the Government's negative attitude towards such requests, because I firmly believe that a public inquiry could prevent serious injuries, and even death, for some boxers.

I still believe that an independent inquiry is necessary because we have reached an impasse, with the British Medical Association on one side of the argument about safety in boxing and the British Boxing Board of Control on the other, with the Minister responsible for sport in the middle, not doing anything. Because of that impasse, I believe that there is no alternative but to ban boxing before further calamities occur in the boxing ring.

As one famous boxer recently said: Boxing damages your brain. Don't let anyone tell you different. Accordingly, I urge the House to take action to save the health and lives of boxers by calling for a ban on boxing.

3.51 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I beg to oppose the Bill, but, in doing so, I acknowledge that no hon. Member doubts the sincerity of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) or his consistency of view in this important matter.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a catalogue of deaths in boxing, and I am quite prepared, in defending boxing, to stand up and say that 14 boxers have been killed since 1946. However, I ask the House to set against that statistic the fact that, this winter alone, many more people than that have died on the Cairngorms while mountaineering. No hon. Member has come to the House to say that mountaineering should therefore be made illegal.

There is an extremely serious inconsistency in the hon. Gentleman's argument. I remind him and the House that people can choose whether to box, just as they can choose whether to go mountaineering, with all the known attendant dangers.

The tragic case of Michael Watson and the others mentioned by the hon. Gentleman moved the House as they moved this country. Such suffering moves the world, as does the suffering of people in any sport who are damaged almost to the point of death. I would remind the House that Mr. Sutcliffe, the surgeon who operated on McClellan and was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, does not want boxing banned, and nor do many other doctors, who know that it would only go underground if it were.

We really must not take the nanny state to the extremes suggested by the hon. Gentleman. Boxing is a very dangerous sport, as is my own main sport of horse riding. I mentioned mountaineering, but there are also many other dangerous sports, such as skiing, rugby football, motor car racing and cycle racing.

Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)


Mr. Greenway

People have died jogging, but this is a serious matter, and I want to consider the lethal sports. People are killed in motor racing, but nobody suggests that that should be stopped.

Boxing would not in any event be stopped if the Bill were passed. It would go underground. People would fight with bare fists, unlicensed and without medical supervision. What a dreadful society we would create if that were allowed to happen. What would happen to people drawn in against their will, as they would be if boxing were not open and they were unable to refuse? Is that what the hon. Gentleman wants? I am sure that it is not.

Boxing teaches people the art of self-defence. To listen to the hon. Gentleman, one would think that there were no arts that a boxer could employ to defend himself and avoid damaging blows, but the great art of boxing is not to be knocked out or knocked about, and 99 per cent. of boxers achieve that aim.

Boys enjoy boxing. I have helped in boxing clubs in my constituency and in east London, where boys have learned the art of boxing and become involved in an activity which has given them life when nothing else could. Does the hon. Gentleman want to take that away from such boys? Many come off the streets, they learn the art of boxing, and they learn self-discipline, often for the first time. Why should that be taken from them? They enjoy it, their families enjoy it, and the community enjoys it.

With all deference to the hon. Gentleman, is he not aware of clubs all over London where boxing takes place? Does he not know that boxing is returning to schools, and that, in such clubs, schools and other areas, there is very close supervision of the sport? That is its great value. There is medical supervision, training and skill in the sport.

Some distinguished hon. Members have boxed their way to the top. A boxing blue is sitting on the Front Bench today—my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), the Paymaster General—and some Opposition Members are former boxers. There is no doubt that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), the Opposition's spokesman on sport, and the Paymaster General have both learned to take care of themselves partly through the great sport which they enjoyed so much.

Is the House aware of the distinguished membership of the British Boxing Board of Control? It includes two hon. Members—the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe). How could it include more distinguished sportsmen? They are not going to stand by with others on that distinguished board and see people mutilated wantonly—and they will not.

There is no doubt that boxing is a fine, well-supervised sport. This House would do ill even to contemplate abolishing it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 60, Noes 120.

Division No.126] [3.56 pm
Ainger, Nick Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Alton, David Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Liddell, Mrs Helen
Barron, Kevin Litherland, Robert
Battle, John Loyden, Eddie
Benn, Rt Hon Tony McAllion, John
Callaghan, Jim McCartney, Ian
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) McNamara, Kevin
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Mahon, Alice
Corston, Jean Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Martin, Michael J (Springbum)
Davidson, Ian Moonie, Dr Lewis
Eastham, Ken Morley, Elliot
Etherington, Bill Mullin, Chris
Fatchett, Derek Pike, Peter L
Flynn, Paul Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Foster, Don (Bath) Primarolo, Dawn
Fyfe, Maria Rendel, David
Galbraith, Sam Rooney, Terry
Garrett, John Sheerman, Barry
Gordon, Mildred Soley, Clive
Gunnell, John Steinberg, Gerry
Harvey, Nick Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Heppell, John Tyler, Paul
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Illsley, Eric Wilshire, David
Ingram, Adam Wise, Audrey
Jessel, Toby
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Tellers for the Ayes:
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Mr. Andrew F. Bennett and
Jowell, Tessa Mr. John Home Robertson.
Adams, Mrs Irene Brazier, Julian
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bruce, Ian (Dorset)
Alexander, Richard Budgen, Nicholas
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Burden, Richard
Ashby, David Caborn, Richard
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Canavan, Dennis
Austin-Walker, John Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Carrington, Matthew
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Carttiss, Michael
Beith, Rt Hon A J Church, Judith
Bermingham, Gerald Clapham, Michael
Betts, Clive Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Congdon, David
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Booth, Hartley Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Cormack, Sir Patrick
Bowden, Sir Andrew Couchman, James
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Dalyell, Tam
Day, Stephen Meale, Alan
Dicks, Terry Miller, Andrew
Dixon, Don Mills, Iain
Dover, Den Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Duncan, Alan Nelson, Anthony
Dunn, Bob Neubert, Sir Michael
Durant, Sir Anthony Nicholls, Patrick
Elletson, Harold Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Olner, Bill
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fabricant, Michael Parry, Robert
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Patnick, Sir Irvine
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Pearson, Ian
Gale, Roger Pendry, Tom
Gardiner Sir George Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Golding, Mrs Llin Porter, David (Waveney)
Graham, Thomas Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Reid, Dr John
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Riddick, Graham
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Ross William (E Londonderry)
Hall, Mike Shersby, Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Skinner, Dennis
Hanson, David Spink, Dr Robert
Hawkins, Nick Spring, Richard
Hawksley, Warren Stewart, Allan
Hayes, Jerry Sutcliffe, Gerry
Heathcoat-Amory, David Sweeney, Walter
Henderson, Doug Sykes, John
Hendron, Dr Joe Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hinchliffe, David Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Hunter, Andrew Tipping, Paddy
Jenkin, Bernard Turner, Dennis
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Waterson, Nigel
Keen, Alan Wigley, Dafydd
Khabra, Piara S Wilkinson, John
Knapman, Roger Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
McLoughlin, Patrick Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
McMaster, Gordon Wray, Jimmy
Madden, Max Tellers for the Noes:
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Mr. Brian H. Donohoe and
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Mr. Terry Lewis.

Question accordingly negatived.