HL Deb 22 November 1973 vol 346 cc1190-4

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they propose to follow up the pamphlet issued by the Ministry of Education urging schools to ban boxing owing to the danger of brain damage following blows to the head.


My Lords, the pamphlet does not urge schools to ban boxing. It was published only a month ago and my right honourable friend and I do not intend to issue further formal advice on boxing at present.


My Lords, may I say that I am surprised at the Minister's Answer. I have the pamphlet here. Is it not a fact that the pamphlet says that schools should not allow boys to participate in boxing, but if a boy desires to do so the approval of the parents must be sought; and in seeking that approval the parents must be told of the brain damage which the Royal College of Physicians say may follow blows to the head?


My Lords, the pamphlet certainly gives guidance on the conditions under which boxing should be conducted in schools; namely, not unless the boys want to take part; not without the parents' approval; not without warning of the risks; only under competent supervision; and only if the competitors are carefully matched.


My Lords, as that is very comprehensive guidance, how can the noble Lord say that the pamphlet does not say that boxing should take place in schools as usual? It specifically says here that boys should not participate in boxing. It mentions the chronic brain damage which the Royal College of Physicians have pointed out, and it says that no boy should take part without the approval of the parents. How can the noble Lord treat this matter so lightly? Was he a boxer himself?


Not since my prep. school days, my Lords. But the conditions are as I have stated, and my right honourable friend and I think that that is going far enough at the present time.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that before he came to this House—and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will remember this clearly—I tried to ban boxing by introducing a Bill? The House was very sympathetic, but the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack suggested that the Royal College of Physicians should examine the whole matter. The Royal College of Physicians have sat for three years, and they have come down clearly on my side. They having come down on my side, the Government are digging their toes in and, like little boys, are saying: "Over my dead body"


My Lords, I am not quite sure why this subject always gives rise to so much humour, because there is no doubt whatever from the report of the Royal College of Physicians, and from what we knew before, that very serious brain damage can occur. I beg your Lordships' pardon: I should have put that in the form of a question.


My Lords, in answer to the noble Baroness, it is true that the Royal College of Physicians published in 1969 a report which clearly shows that there is some risk in boxing, though they were chiefly concerned with professional boxing. It is because of this risk that, even in regard to boxing between schoolboys, this advice has been given.


My Lords, has the noble Lord read this report by the Royal College of Physicians? Is he aware that the doctors have said that there will be chronic brain damage as a result of repeated blows to the head? Therefore is he not prepared to take the advice given in the pamphlet by the Government; namely, that boys should no longer be allowed to participate in boxing in schools unless the parents approve, and before giving their approval they must be told what the Royal College of Physicians have said about chronic brain damage? Would the noble Lord give me a more specific answer and assure me that the Government are taking this matter seriously, as my noble colleague suggested they should?


My Lords, I think I have assured the noble Baroness already that the Government have taken note of this report, and this advice is based upon it.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether Her Majesty's Government look upon boxing as a harmless pastime, in the same sort of way as rugby football is regarded? After all, anyone may take part in that sport. Would my noble friend not agree that, just as 100 or 150 years ago we abolished duelling, because we then decided that it was a harmful pastime, though at one time it had been regarded as harmless, the time has now come when we should realise (though we have not realised it in the past) that boxing is not a harmless pastime and that perhaps something should be done?


My Lords, I do not think so. As I have said, it is recognised that there is an element of risk, and that is why guidance has been given setting out very clear terms and conditions under which boxing should take place, if it takes place at all. But I agree with my noble friend that there are a whole lot of other activities—for example, mountaineering, canoeing, sailing and so on—which are very much in favour at the moment, while boxing is waning somewhat in favour.




My Lords, without imposing an actual ban, could not the Government issue a directive that would seek to discourage boxing in schools?


No, my Lords. My right honourable friend has no powers of direction in this field. She can give, and has given, guidance.


But, my Lords, is it not possible also to suffer brain damage from being kicked on the head in rugger, or through having a cricket ball strike one on the head? Would not the noble Lord think that his right honourable friend might consider the banning of all sports, with the possible exception of tiddly-winks?


My Lords, is the noble Lord telling this House that his right honourable friend has no powers whatever to issue directives as to the nature of sporting activities in schools, or as to the conditions under which they are played, or concerning the amount of protection that is provided, or whether a gymnasium should be constructed in such a way as not to give rise to risk of serious accidents? While I agree with every word said by the noble Baroness, would the Government look into boxing, taking into consideration that all the recent exhibitions of adult boxing have involved no danger to the combatants but only a serious danger of thrombosis to the spectators?


My Lords, would not my noble friend think it would be a good idea to apply the blows to young boys' bottoms, where there are no brains?


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that it is far better to have controlled boxing? Since young boys often fight at school, would it not be better to have them boxing in controlled conditions, wearing heavy gloves?


That may be so, my Lords, provided that a boxing competition does not automatically stop other forms of activity.


My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government accept that there is a very big difference between a sport carrying risk and danger with it, such as sailing, and canoeing and Rugby football, and a sport the object of which is to do damage to somebody's head?


No. my Lords, I would not agree with that.