§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
First, I should explain the purpose of the Bill. It is quite clear; it is to ban professional boxing in this country. There may be some comments to be made on the Bill's clauses. It is a rather simple Bill and any amendment to it to clarify its purpose could be made at Committee stage. I sincerely hope that it will reach Committee stage.
This Bill has an interesting history. It was moved on 10th May 1962 by Lady Summerskill. On that occasion it was defeated by 27 votes to 22 votes—a rather thin House. Ten years ago, almost to the day, I introduced the Bill to this House. On that occasion there voted Content 47 and Not-Content 77. The Bill did not receive a Second Reading.
However, recent events in the ring have certainly encouraged me to reintroduce it. There is growing concern on the part of the public about those recent events. I am aware that the British Boxing Board of Control has tried to make the sport—if it can be called a sport—more acceptable. Looking at the changes that it is making in the affairs of boxing following the sad events of 10 weeks ago, it is obvious that anything done is done to improve the treatment of boxers after they are knocked out and not before. It is after they have been knocked out that the authorities will make an ambulance available and will have a doctor at the ready and there will be no ringside or in-the-ring interviews. That does not deal with the basic problem of boxing and the objections to boxing as a sport which I have and which I hope are shared by this House.
Ten years ago I put before your Lordships three basic propositions. The first was that anything that perpetuates violence is an evil and anything that glamorises violence damages the fabric of a civilised society. I know that Members of the House of Lords have been gravely concerned—and have had many debates—about the growing level of violence in society. There can be no doubt at all that at boxing matches, with all the hype and excitement that surrounds the spectacle, violence is glamorised.
291 Secondly, and now justified by the evidence of the British Medical Association, I claimed that boxing frequently results in brain damage and sometimes in death.
The third proposition was a challenge to our moral conscience. We must ask ourselves: what is the justification for organising for our entertainment a public spectacle whose main object is for one human being to knock unconscious another human being? I cannot accept that there can be any moral or ethical justification for that kind of situation.
With regard to brain damage, there is now abundant evidence provided by the British Medical Association of the extent of such injury. There is an article in tonight's Evening Standard which some of your Lordships may have read. It links head injury to Alzheimer's disease. No one who has seen sufferers from Alzheimer's disease can fail to realise what a miserable condition it is. Anything that contributes to Alzheimer's disease must be condemned.
The BMA is concerned about the problem of brain damage. In 1982 it passed a resolution which stated:In view of the proven ocular and brain damage resulting from professional boxing, the Association should campaign for its abolition".In 1987 it said:In view of the continuing serious ill effects on the health of boxers, this Meeting requests the BMA to pursue government with renewed vigour until there is a ban on boxing".There is abundant evidence from the BMA of ill effects on boxers.
Experience of people in the ring shows the damaging effect that boxing has on the brain. Following our last debate 10 years ago, I received a call from New York from a young man known as Sugar Ray Leonard. He asked, "Are you the guy who wants to stop boxing?" I replied that I was. He said, "I'm coming over to England. I want to meet you eyeball to eyeball". I did not offer him five or 10 rounds but I was glad to meet him on the terrace of the House of Lords. We discussed the problem of brain damage in relation to boxing. He is a beautiful young man, a perfect athlete and highly intelligent. I said to him, "I know that you have a detached retina". He said, "Do you know how much they are offering me for my next fight? Twelve million dollars". That was 10 years ago. I said, "I don't think your eyesight is worth 12 million dollars".
Sugar Ray Leonard went back to America. Not entirely on my advice, he retired from the ring. I regret to say that he has now re-entered it; I have no knowledge at present of how much damage that has done. However, his illustrious predecessor, Sugar Ray Robinson, on whom he modelled himself, was a victim of Alzheimer's disease. He is now dead. All of us have seen the pathetic spectacle of the shuffling, mumbling, former wonderful athlete, Mohammed Ali. Consider what boxing has done to him when remembering him in his prime.
Frank Bruno entered the ring the other day. I was interested to note that the medical doctor of the BMA did not attend the fight because he did not believe that Frank Bruno should have another fight since he had 292 recently had operations on his eyes. That does not suggest that the British Boxing Board of Control is controlling the sport as it ought to do. There are many cases—some of us know of them—of boys who enjoyed the glamour, excitement and rewards of boxing and who ended up mentally damaged and frequently in the gutter. In my view it is not a sport which should be encouraged or supported.
In boxing it takes some time for the ill effects to become evident. They are not immediate. In the case of Michael Watson there was immediate concern because he simply clung to life and no more. He has not fully recovered by a long chalk. I hope that he will recover. But there is little likelihood that he will ever enjoy a return to normal faculties.
I have suggested that there is no moral case which justifies our encouraging, or paying for, entertainment to watch two young men each seeking to knock the other unconscious. People will say, "That's interesting, but should we ban it? Is it not an intrusion on personal liberty to ban personal boxing?" In our society we occasionally take steps to prevent certain abuses. It is a long time since we abolished cock fighting. We felt that the spectacle of cock fighting was demeaning. We have taken steps recently to ban fighting between pit bull terriers and other dogs which are trained to fight. We have banned animals fighting in a ring, yet we seem to be less sensitive to the greater problems of young men in the ring.
Violence in the ring affects young people; ask anyone who advertises on television. They know that by advertising on television one attracts people to imitate and act in certain ways. With the code of conduct which governs the BBC and ITV we ensure that there shall not be gratuitous violence in programmes on television. At the same time we permit the spectacle of boxing matches on television. That glamorises violence.
People will say that other sports such as rugby football, soccer and motor racing are sometimes dangerous. But in no other sport is there intentional violence. It is only in boxing that the purpose of the exercise is for one man to knock another unconscious. There is no doubt about that decision. On a points verdict there is always conflict about the decision. If one wants to win one has to knock the other fellow out. In no other sport is that the purpose of the exercise.
I hope that we shall give the Bill a Second Reading today. First, boxing glamorises violence. Secondly, it causes brain damage and sometimes death. Thirdly, there is no moral case which would justify our encouraging and paying for such a spectacle. In those circumstances I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Taylor of Gryfe.)
§ 7.18 p.m.
The Earl of Balfour
My Lords, I have often admired the constructive approach to many problems that have been raised in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. However, I cannot support him in this legislation.
293 I think it is excellent for children to learn a little about the art of boxing and self-defence. At school I was a very shy person. However, I remember my instructor telling me very firmly, "Now you've got to look at your opponent eye to eye. Only in that way will you know where to hit him". I believe that through that advice, perhaps more than anything else, I lost my shyness.
As I understand the position at present, under English case law stemming from a court decision of 1882, a boxing or sparring match with gloves, fairly conducted under recognised rules, is not illegal. Homicide in the course of such a contest is not manslaughter unless it results from a foul blow or one struck with the intention of causing serious injury. That is according to a court decision made in 1865. However, a contest in which the men have to fight on until one is incapacitated by exhaustion or blows is not a legal contest. The fact that gloves are worn is immaterial, for in such a case the contest is virtually a prize-fight. That was a decision taken in the case of R v. Orton 1879 (14 Cox County Court, 226).
A prize-fight is often considered to be a fight where gloves are not worn. However, even if the fight is with gloves and the contest is decided not upon the skill of the competitors but by one or the other being rendered incapable of fighting any longer, the promoters are guilty of an unlawful assembly. If in such a contest death ensues, the surviving combatant and the backers are guilty of manslaughter. However, I should add that in the case of R v. Coney (8QBD, 534) the court decided that the presence of persons at a prize-fight was not enough to sustain a conviction of assault against those persons.
I am not an expert on English law but the word "profit" is usually connected with land or tenancies of property. Without a definition of the word "profit" I believe that the Bill will make any boxing match illegal where any charge is made for ringside seating, or where there is any spectator entrance fee or even a sweepstake. I hope that the Bill will be withdrawn because we shall drive this sport either underground or overseas.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, was most eloquent in introducing the Bill. He spoke primarily about what he regarded as the moral dilemma of having two people indulging in a sport the aim of which was to inflict damage on each other. I had always assumed that the aim of a boxing match was to establish a superiority in a skill. That involves the landing of a series of blows on a target area. That can result in injury. I suggest that if we begin to look at the sport in that light its colour begins to change.
I fully appreciate the fact that a degree of injury will result, but that is inevitable in the vast majority of sports. Indeed, I play rugby, which is a game in which one is almost guaranteed to be injured by the numerous people against whom one is playing. Deaths have occurred in virtually all sports. Any sport involving an element of physical contact risks damage and in turn death. We must look at the matter in that 294 context while appreciating that the aim in boxing is to deliver a blow. All sports have a similar risk if not the same concentration.
I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to a major failing in the Bill. It refers to boxing but it does not refer to contact martial arts. The fastest growing sporting activity in this country is full-contact martial arts; for instance, Thai boxing and kick boxing. They might be covered by the provisions of the Bill, but I suggest that the organisations which wish to continue with the sports will change their names rapidly. Those sports are more dangerous than boxing for the simple reason that they involve kicking. One can inflict far greater damage with a kick than with a punch. Furthermore, they result in people being struck more often because they are technically likely to be more open.
It is true that the British Martial Arts Association has tried to modify its laws so that there is not the same degree of danger in this country as in others. In Thailand Thai boxing results in dozens of fatalities. Steps have been taken to try to reduce the damage inflicted. For instance, blows such as the elbow to the temple and the knee to the groin have been taken out of the sport. The degree of brutality in the sport has been lessened. However, unless the Bill deals with the whole range of full-contact martial arts we are on a hiding to nothing. If interest in such sports is growing but we deprive people of boxing, where will the potential audience go?
I suggest that the idea of encouraging people towards violence, even the theatrical American wrestling which we now see, is another issue that we should investigate. I suggest that to try to convince children that picking up a man and slamming him head first onto a canvas mat or a floor will cause no damage and that he will be ready to fight again next week, is far more dangerous than showing them that if someone is hit it hurts. I believe that films must show that if people are shot they die painfully and unpleasantly rather than showing people shot in the arm and wandering about for three or four days. We should let people know the truth about such things. Violence in the raw might be more acceptable than glamorised violence.
I suggest that the Bill misses its target. If we expand the debate to cover all dangerous sports we shall stop most sports. The current death toll from boxing is not the highest. If we wish to stop violent sports the Bill will limit the number of sports available. Those involving a degree of humiliation for the loser involve the skill of the martial arts—indeed, physical-contact sports—and fall short of the Bill. I suggest that it is inappropriate to continue with consideration of the Bill.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
My Lords, I was greatly moved by the sincere and obviously earnest way in which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, moved that the Bill should be read a second time. I felt it right that I should try to draw to your Lordships' attention certain well-acknowledged and well-recognised medical facts which are significant in our debate. Perhaps 295 I may congratulate the noble Lord for bringing the matter to our attention and allowing the debate to take place. However, I must apologise to him and to your Lordships for the fact that, having been compelled to postpone a long-standing commitment that I had arranged for the early part of the evening, I may be unable to stay until the end of the debate.
Since my childhood I have had a deep interest in many forms of sport, both as a participant and as a spectator. Of course I appreciate that many of those sports can result in serious physical injury. Whenever I have an opportunity and time allows I watch rugby football, association football, tennis, golf and many other sports with avid interest. I must confess that there have been occasions on which, perhaps through some kind of basic primitive urge, I have found myself glued to the television watching a professional boxing contest. My head has told me that I should not do so but my heart has compelled me to continue to watch.
As a doctor and primarily as a neurologist I must say to your Lordships that the effect of professional boxing and, as the noble Lord has just said, of many other contact martial arts is to produce a degree of brain damage in certain circumstances which I believe to be unacceptable in a civilised society. Of course it is true that people die driving motor cars on a race track. Sometimes people are paralysed as a result of a collapsing scrum on a rugby football field. Some work carried out in my own department of neurology some years ago in Newcastle upon Tyne by Dr. Foster demonstrated that repeated brain injury as a result of many falls by steeplechase jockeys resulted in the punch-drunk syndrome. It is well recognised that that occurs. However, the primary aim of those sports is not to injure one's opponent, as is the case in professional boxing and certain other sports.
I confess, too, that many who have been professional boxers over the years, like Henry Cooper and Frank Bruno, have a certain homespun charm which attracts the public at large. One accepts that entirely. One must accept also that many professional boxers have completed their careers without demonstrating evidence of that kind of progressive and serious brain damage which admittedly afflicts only a minority.
In passing, I must refer, as did the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, to the fact that according to press reports the chief medical officer to the British Boxing Board of Control, Dr. Adrian Whiteside, apparently wished that Frank Bruno had not had his licence restored, but he was overruled by the board. I accept also that that board of control and its medical advisors have done a great deal to introduce techniques of neurological examination with brain scans, magnetic resonance imaging scans and other techniques for examining boxers prior to their entry into the ring in an attempt to reduce the toll of damage which occurs as a consequence of the sport.
All that is commendable. The reports carried out over the years by the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians have shown that the sport is to some extent unique in that the consequence, purpose and objective is to apply a sufficient number 296 of blows to one's opponent to inflict physical injury and, despite what the noble Lord has just said, the objective of most boxers in both the professional and amateur ring is to knock one's opponent unconscious if possible.
There is powerful neurological evidence to indicate clearly that a severe blow to the head, however caused, not only causes concussion, which is the consequence of the jarring of brain tissue within the skull cage, but it almost inevitably results in the death of a small number of brain cells and the division of a small number of fibre tracts within the brain. That information is now available from neuro-pathological studies.
In the course of my professional neurological practice I have seen too many men who have gone on too long in the professional ring, who have been allegedly, according to the press and to others, marvellously brave at taking punishment. In consequence they have suffered progressive brain damage which has led not only to atrophy, which means shrinkage of the brain, but also to enlargement of the cavities or ventricles of the brain, and to a loss of the central structure which separates those brain cavities called a septum pellucidum, which is a characteristic effect of the brain damage of boxers. They have gone on to develop a progressive deterioration or degeneration of the intellect, called dementia, combined with features of Parkinson's disease and that slow, sombre shuffling gait which is so much a hallmark of the punch-drunk syndrome. I have seen that far too often to believe that this so-called sport can be justified as a spectacle in a civilised society.
I appreciate that, as has been said, other sports cause injury. However, that is not their primary objective. There are those who say that were the sport to be banned, ultimately it would be driven underground. I ask them to produce evidence that that has happened in countries where it has been banned; that is, Sweden, Norway and Iceland.
I am not so sanguine as to believe, however powerful the advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that the Bill will ultimately reach the statute book. One recognises that there are many vested interests, financial and otherwise, which are likely to oppose the Bill in its subsequent stages. Having said that, I am in no doubt that the day will come when professional boxing will be banned in this and many other countries throughout the world because its objectives are intolerable and its effects unacceptable in a civilised society.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Lord Soper
My Lords, as I understand it, I have just listened to an irresistible case on the basis of the medical evidence which, it seems to me, must be incontrovertible and decisive. I add very little from my own competence, which is marginal, to the experience of those who have suffered damage from repeated activities in the ring. I shall attempt to support the moral argument in a rather wider context than that in which it has been referred to already.
297 I begin with a reminiscence which your Lordships will permit because it is germane to what I have to say. As an unregenerate youth, I was an ardent boxer. I had some little competence in that field. I was immensely proud of the fact—I have not been able to verify it since but I believe it to be true—that I was trained by one of the trainers of the the immortal, or at least well known, Jack Johnson. I wore that almost as a badge of competence.
Therefore I am compelled to say that the aura of pleasure and the sense of satisfaction has not diminished in my old age. I find it difficult to turn off the television when a programme of boxing is on the screen. Occasionally I turn it off but it is a struggle. It is a struggle because the watching of boxing and the participation in boxing bears witness to one element which is not bad; that is, the sense of power which is a legitimate desire on the part of those who seek it and want to use it.
The question which must be answered is whether or not violence is one exercise of that power which is permissible. I do not believe it is. Having come to the conclusion that boxing is one experiment in the field of illegitimate power, it is my responsibility as a would-be Christian to say "No" to it and to campaign for its abolition, at least professionally.
I am able to tell the House that, generally speaking, I may be in consort with the Churches, as far as I am aware of their position. I can at least speak confidently with regard to the Methodist Church which has taken the view I have already briefly tried to express. However, I invite your Lordships to listen for a short while to an extension of the moral argument.
I believe in what has been clumsily called the ubiquity of violence in modern society. I do not wish to shiver any of your Lordships' timbers when I remind myself that there is a unique characteristic with regard to power in contemporary society which is totally unprecedented. Those people who see violence see it in the context of a terminal condition which may be as thorough for the human species as another kind of terminal condition was for the dinosaurs.
I know that it sounds melodramatic to some people to talk about the prospect of the end of the world. But I have the unfortunate and uncomfortable feeling which almost reaches conviction that, unless we get rid of the menace and generality of violence, we shall be preparing ourselves for an irresistible change which may be final. I do not say that with any great authority, though ecclesiastically and from the biblical standpoint it is worth saying and I wish more parsons would say it.
I am concerned to say this. The widespread concept of violence epitomised in the various forms of violent sport about which we have already heard, that perpetuation of violence, must be dealt with from where it can first and most satisfactorily be approached. Though I am a pacifist I do not believe that in my lifetime the concept of pacifism is likely to reach the dimensions of a coercive programme. But I believe that in other areas where violence is now practised we can do two things. We can remove the glamour which I remember as a child. At the same time we can break into that continuity, that ubiquity 298 of violence which is one of the most contemporary and dangerous situations that the human species has ever faced. We have that opportunity, dramatically and inexorably presented in medical terms which are overwhelmingly convincing as far as I am concerned. I believe that from the standpoint of the damage that is done we have no right to think of a body as a commodity, liable to the vagaries of a market and constituted within the framework of a capitalist society. Worse still, I believe that there is a continuation within the areas of literature and the media to celebrate violence as though it were a commendable acceptance of something which belongs to our better nature or indeed to our survival.
We have an opportunity to strike a blow; to deal with a specific expression of violence. I hope that we take that opportunity. The opportunity to break into that continuity is denied to us if we make a broad and general attack on the whole concept of society and of violence without at the same time epitomising and analysing aspects of that violence which are within the competence of intelligent and moral people to deal with now.
It is an argument which is an extension of the argument that it is immoral to take part in professional boxing—as I believe it to be. But that immorality is conditioned by the fact that we contribute to the general area, the miasma of violence, which infects everyone who is partaking of the opportunities of violence. His lungs are contaminated by the irresistible force of the air he breathes. I want a purer air. If I cannot have it all today, I believe that here is one way in which we can break into the continuity of violence and I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading.
§ 7.45 p.m.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton
My Lords, I do not believe that I can follow the noble Lord, Lord Soper, in his philosophical and religious discourse. Though I am sure that when I read his speech I shall probably agree with about two-thirds of it, I am not sure that I can accept the whole of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is certainly tenacious in his opposition to professional boxing. I emphasise that the Bill is against professional boxing. If it receives a Second Reading and practitioners of the amateur sport are worried, they can always table an amendment at Committee stage to protect their amateur sport.
To use possibly an apt expression, I should like to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on being a bonny fighter. As he himself said, it has been 10 years since he last introduced a Bill on the subject. I shall certainly support him in the Lobby. However, since he introduced his Bill 10 years ago I have experienced certain doubts, not on the matter of professional boxing and the damage done to the participants, which is part and parcel of this barbarous sport (if we can call it such) but rather on making illegal something which for many years has been legal. Nowadays far too many people in this country—I do not include the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—want to 299 stop other people from doing what they want to do. Unfortunately, the number of such people is increasing.
Turning back to boxing, it may be argued that if two men, of their own accord and abiding by certain fairly stringent rules in the presence of a referee, wish to knock each other insensible, they should be allowed to do so. I strongly believe that such an activity should not be encouraged. I confess that I do not know whether or not there is a case for making it illegal. In society as it is developing today I feel that the police have sufficient to do.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Walton, places another construction on it, nonetheless it is proven that over a length of time boxing results in the condition known as being "punch drunk". Men become stupid and eventually they go mad. Those are simple layman's terms. Professional boxers ought to know the risks that they are taking. I understand from conversation outside the Chamber that they do. But money can pay for almost anything, including self-destruction.
I agree with those who think that a heavy responsibility rests on the press and television for the publicity that they give to professional boxing. The lives of prominent and successful boxers are well known; they become public figures and are written about in the press and so on. But as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, less is known about the way in which those lives end.
Finally, one must remember that in professional boxing fights go on for 12 three-minute rounds. In amateur or army boxing there are only three three-minute rounds. I believe the rounds were cut from 15 to 12, but that is still a murderous ordeal for any man. It is no wonder that it often results in serious injury or even death.
I personally believe that it would be the best thing in the world if this sport ceased to take place. I would like to see it end for many reasons although I have expressed doubts about the wisdom of bringing it to an end by making it criminal. As I have said, I shall support the noble Lord in the Lobby tonight because I feel that by doing so this House will have set down a marker showing what it feels about this sport. I salute the noble Lord for bringing attention to a very real evil. I hope that his efforts over many years may assist in ending it.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Airedale
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said that this is the time to strike a blow against professional boxing. How much I agree with him! The other day I was discussing this subject in the dining room with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. I said that I could not understand why anybody would want to pay what Mr. Desmond Lynam of the BBC calls "funny money" for a ringside seat at a big fight because for one thing it might all be over in a few minutes, as happened the other day in the big fight. There is also usually the opportunity to watch the match on television from an armchair where one probably gets a better view than from a ringside seat. 300 The noble Lord, Lord Allen, said "Yes, but you are forgetting something. With a ringside seat you have the added thrill that you might be bespattered with blood".
The crowd certainly seems to enjoy the bespattering of blood. One can hear the spectators, from the shelter of their seats well back from the ring, react to the added excitement that occurs when the blood starts to flow. Of course the spectators say that they are not there to watch anybody being hurt; they are there to enjoy the skill. If that is so, why is it that all the big fights seem to be between big men? Surely the lightweights exhibit as much if not more skill than the heavyweights, but the lightweights do not seem to attract the audience in the same way.
It was in the days of the bare-knuckle fights that the worst of the facial injuries and the blood-letting occurred. In consequence of that the boxing glove came along as a protection. However, I fear that it has turned out that the boxing glove is the villain of the piece. One does not need the expert knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, with his medical experience, to tell one what are the precious parts of the human body. Nature has shown us, for instance, that the eyes are precious because they are indented in the face for protection. We may be quite sure from examining the human skull and the thickness and hardness of it, that something must lie inside which is very important so that it receives the utmost protection. The boxing glove strikes the skull with a far heavier blow than the boxer could bare to inflict with bare knuckles. The boxer would break his hand if he inflicted the kind of blow which is inflicted by the boxing glove.
One partial solution to the problem might be to say that in the ring the boxer should wear the same head protection as I believe he customarily wears in training. However, I do not suppose that that idea would appeal very strongly to the box office. I very much hope that this Bill will receive a Second Reading.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Lord Brooks of Tremorfa
My Lords, I am an administrative steward at the British Boxing Board of Control; I am a member of the Welsh area council of that board and I am the patron of the Welsh ex-boxers' association. I believe that ex-boxers would be very hurt indeed if they were to hear it suggested that they or their sport were in any way allied to the increasing violence that we see all about us. Indeed, I believe that they would say that if some of the young people who were causing the violence were to attend boxing gymnasia to be trained in the discipline that they were trained in, we would see much less violence than we see today.
I was not trained by Jack Johnson's trainer, but I do share a distinction with Rocky Marciano. He was a former heavyweight champion of the world. He boxed 49 times and won 49 fights. That is a 100 per cent. record of course. I boxed in four fights and lost four. Whatever way one looks at it that is also a 100 per cent. record. I would like to quote an extract from a letter to the South Wales Echo, which is the evening 301 paper which covers South Wales, an area which has produced many great champions in the past and where there is a tremendous following for boxing. The letter was inspired by what happened on that awful night at White Hart Lane when Michael Watson was knocked out.
The letter says:It is good news that Michael Watson is coming out of his coma. I hope and pray that he will recover as my family and I know what a terrible traumatic time his family is going through.While I have every sympathy with Michael and his family, I do not have any sympathy towards those who jumped on the bandwagon calling for boxing to be banned after this unfortunate fight.Every boxer who goes into the ring knows the risk he is taking. To ban boxing is NOT the answer. If it was banned it would only result in the sport going underground and becoming even more dangerous. If this were to happen you would not have the rules and conditions governing boxing that we have today. Instead of banning boxing we should strive to make the sport safer".That letter was written by Mr. Dick Owen who was the father of Johnny Owen of Merthyr who died in an attempt to win a world title 10 years ago. I believe that Mr. Owen is right.
Reference has been made to the way in which rules and conditions of boxing have changed over the years. Although the boxing records list bare-knuckle fighter James Figg as the first British champion in 1719, prize fighting began long before then. In those days the promoters made their own rules and controlling bodies were non-existent. There was no system of standardised weights. Opponents were often ill-matched and lighter men were often slaughtered in marathon bouts. Of course, boxing was then illegal and when men were killed or seriously injured very little comment was made. Fatalities were not uncommon and fights often lasted for hours. The longest on record lasted for 276 rounds.
It was bloodthirsty, brutal and cruel. There were no proper referees or rules. There were no medical examinations to make sure that fighters were fit to enter the contest. There was no doctor on hand to give immediate and expert treatment when needed. If a fighter died there was no insurance scheme to provide for his dependants and often there was no money even to bury him. The illegal fights were not, of course, publicised. Nevertheless, huge crowds would gather in the fields where contests were held to watch men like Daniel Mendoza, Tom Cribb, and Gentleman John Jackson and other bare-knuckle contestants oppose each other for anything from 40 rounds to 100 rounds. It was largely the gentry who patronised the fights, showing their appreciation by tossing coins into the ring.
One of James Figg's pupils, James Broughton, is credited with the first attempt to clean up the sport in 1743. Boxing became so popular that it attracted wealthy patrons wanting to learn what they were pleased to call "the noble art". The first rules were devised along with the introduction of gloves to protect boxers from severe injuries and to stop them from breaking their knuckles. Broughton created an image of honesty and fair play, and all who took part were expected to follow his strictures.
302 The Marquess of Queensberry Rules were introduced in 1867 and were used five years later. They brought in weight divisions, basic rounds of three minutes each with one minute intervals, and the 10 count for a fighter unable to get to his feet after a fall or a knock down. These rules applied to glove fighting as bare knuckle contests mercifully began to fade into obscurity. The National Sporting Club was formed to take the brutality out of prize fighting and the NSC gave boxing a new image, stopping crooked fights and ruling the sport with iron discipline, with referees in the ring conducting proceedings. It ruled boxing for 20 years and its president, Lord Lonsdale, gave his name to the challenge belts that have become a major feature of British championships.
Thankfully the days of vicious bare knuckle fights are just history. Britain now has the best controlled body of sport in the world in the British Boxing Board of Control. The British Boxing Board of Control appoints all referees, stewards, inspectors and time-keepers. It is an organisation administering its authority over boxing with stringent medical supervision. Many amateur champions have been refused professional licences because they failed to measure up to the BBB of C medical standards. No other controlling body in boxing is better run, and in all respects the welfare and safety of the boxer comes first.
It is because the sport is so well controlled that serious injuries to boxers are not commonplace. It is because serious incidents arc so rare that they attract publicity. Few sports are without risk—that is often why they attract such a following.
There have been many serious injuries and deaths in other sports, and reference has been made to those this evening. I shall give some figures very briefly. Between 1969 and 1980 there were 480 deaths in sport: 93 in mountaineering and rock climbing; 85 in motorcycling; 66 in football; 53 in horse riding; 34 in parachuting and hang gliding; 28 in motor racing; 32 in rugby; 28 in skin diving; 16 in canoeing; in cricket there were nine; in hunting there were nine; golf had six; rowing had four; in karate there were three; judo had three; professional boxing had two.
As Mr. Dick Owen so clearly put it—and no one can speak from such personal experience as he: "If it were banned it would only result in the sport going underground and becoming even more dangerous". That is why we must not ban it. That it why we must have proper controls and regulations. Let us not force the contest back to deserted wharves and warehouses or hidden fields. Let us not force it back into the twilight world where it will be controlled by the unscrupulous and the greedy. Let us keep it in the open, where it is now, properly run with proper rules and first-class supervision—medical and otherwise—and where the welfare of the boxer is paramount.
Anyone who saw the television programme on unlicensed boxing recently would realise that if this Bill were to succeed, we would be back to the dark days of crooked promoters and no protection for the boxers. This Bill should he aimed at unlicensed boxing and increasing the powers of the British Boxing Board of Control.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ The Earl of Shrewsbury
My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and I understand his concerns. In fact I should also say, as Mohammed Ali does that Lord Taylor of Gryfe floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
I support and enjoy boxing and I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Brooks, said, and I think he is absolutely right. I am extremely concerned about the wording of this Bill because it does not cover just professional boxing; it covers all boxing. Clause 1 of the Bill states:Any person who organises for profit a boxing match …"—not a professional boxing match or an amateur match —any boxing match. That is a dangerous ball game to get into.
While I appreciate that professional boxing is potentially dangerous—by its very nature it has to be —there are very many other sports which take place in this country where participants are regularly injured, sometimes permanently and sometimes even killed. Professional jockeys, to take one example—which is a world I know better than boxing—often suffer horrendous injuries with a fatality occurring every few years. They do it because it is their living, they know how to do it, they are professional, and they enjoy it. It is their choice.
Injuries occur regularly in all competitive sports. Indeed, if we take this Bill through tonight to a Committee stage and we accept that it has a Second Reading, are we then to ban such sports as football, horse racing, hunting and riding in general? It goes on a very long way. If they are done for profit, as the wording of this Bill says, how does one define profit? Under what circumstances is there a profit? What are the circumstances where perhaps it is not a profit but money that goes for fund-raising purposes?
I feel that much regulation could, and most definitely should be exercised in the running of professional boxing, where at the very top of the profession huge rewards are increasingly more often the order of the day. That is not always a good thing by any means.
It must be said that amateur boxing in this country is well run, well controlled and the officials ensure that on the slightest hint of any distress at all the referee stops the match. I have a little experience in this as last week I organised a boxing evening for the Staffordshire Association of Boys' Clubs. The Staffordshire Association of Boys' Clubs is affiliated to the National Association of Boys' Clubs and most of our clubs in Staffordshire box. These boys come from very deprived areas. The only thing that they have to do is to box. It is a way in which the boys can strive for a real degree of excellence in an otherwise very deprived situation. Their parents support them.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned earlier the growing concern of society regarding violence. Amateur boxing in these clubs—and the police agree with this statement—actually takes violence off the streets. These boys would otherwise have nothing to do in the evenings. They go along to 304 a gym where they are taught and regulated, they are kept under very strict supervision and they actually do something which is of benefit to the community.
Should this Bill become law as the clause now stands, all boxing for charitable causes like the National Association of Boys' Clubs and many others will be direly affected. I would have been liable to a fine last week had this Bill been law, a fine not exceeding £100,000. That cannot be right. It really does not bear thinking about. The banning of professional boxing will only drive it underground. An example given earlier was that this has not happened in Scandinavia. It will happen in this country. I know it is illegal but there is a growing movement for underground bare knuckle fighting and it happens whether we like it or not. This in itself will produce illegal betting, which is something that none of us wants. It will produce much less supervision and control. Indeed, I might be so bold as to add that it will cause a greater incidence of very serious injury. Boxers in bare knuckle fights do not box to a certain number of rounds; they box until the person they are fighting goes down on the ground and does not get back up again, whether it be five rounds, 20 rounds or 25 rounds. That is not boxing, it is barbaric, and that is what could happen.
Another thing that goes along with this Bill and the results thereof should it become law is that British fighters will still be able to train in England and in Britain. They will simply fight abroad. The increasingly large sums that they are paid now will still be made available to them. It will make no difference at all to fighting in this country.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has brought the Bill before the House, because we do then at least have a chance to discuss it. However, the Bill serves no useful purpose. It is far too wide-ranging, and to take it further would only waste precious parliamentary time. I would feel very able indeed in the future to support a Bill on further and better regulation of professional boxing, but I cannot support this Bill.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend and to your Lordships generally for mistiming my arrival. I had been informed by the Whips' Office that the debate would start at eight o'clock. The previous debate apparently collapsed much sooner than was expected.
Doctors tend to be regarded as spoilsports, wagging fingers at those who are enjoying themselves in case they may do themselves or others an injury. Thus, in your Lordships' House I have been accused by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, of being authoritarian—by implication, a cryptoStalinist—for suggesting that tobacco advertising should be banned. In the Sunday Telegraph this week the noble Lord was quoted as suggesting that the anti-smoking lobby had fascist tendencies. Some of us who advocate change in the national diet have been labelled food Leninists. The underlying reason for these attacks is not the preservation of individual 305 freedom but the very large financial interest in allowing things to continue as they are even though they may be bad for our health.
I am sure that my noble friend is right in his very short Bill not to attempt to ban boxing altogether. The British public is certainly not ready for that, although, as I hope to explain later, there is really no justification for allowing boxing to continue in any form. The prospect of earning large sums of money and becoming famous, nationally or internationally, encourages young men to take up boxing and persevere with building up their muscles very intensively, so as to inflict concussion upon their opponents, preferably before it happens to them. If the money was taken away, amateur boxing would continue, although perhaps at a lower pressure, and eventually it might become less popular as the appetite of the public was less often stimulated through the media, especially television.
I was an amateur boxer for about a year when I was aged around 17 and at school. It so happened that I matured rather earlier than average so that at the age of 16 to 17 I was rather more muscular than my contemporaries. Thus, although my opponent and I were both terrified as we faced each other in the ring, I was usually successful because I packed a heavier punch. However, I did not succeed in knocking anyone out. Boxers who are older and bigger than I was then can now train themselves to deliver a punch with tremendous force. An experimental punch by Frank Bruno has been measured and found to represent a transient blow to the head of about half a tonne. I am sorry if some of the points I make have already been made by other noble Lords.
As the noble Earl said, almost any sport involves some risk, but the injuries are not the prime object of the race, the game or the competition; in fact they interfere with that sport and may lead to the disqualification of a player if deliberately inflicted. Boxing is exceptional, in that the express object of each participant is to inflict injury on the other. The fact that gladiatorial combat has always been a popular spectacle should not alter our concern about the particular type of injury which occurs in boxing. Although it is possible to win on points and for head injuries to be minor, the real object of a boxer is to deliver as hard a blow as possible to the head of his opponent and if possible to knock him out. A knock-out is a form of concussion—when the function of the brain is so disturbed temporarily that consciousness is lost. There is now evidence that suggests that every episode of concussion, even when full recovery apparently occurs, leads to permanent loss of a variable number of brain cells. But injury to the brain can occur even without loss of consciousness.
My noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant will have described this much better than I can but the brain is a very soft jelly-like organ surrounded by a thin layer of fluid in a thick membrane—the dura mater—inside the skull. In fact it is cushioned from low velocity bumps such as one might be subject to in normal life—from bumping into lamp posts or falling down. Bit high velocity impacts or rapid changes in 306 direction, especially if there is a twisting or rotational element to the impact, as is common in boxing, result in parts of the brain being stretched or sheared against irregular ridges or shelves on the inside of the skull; for instance the edge of the foramen magnum, the opening at the base of the skull through which the spinal cord passes.
Injuries to the brain which commonly occur in boxing fall into two categories. There are the acute injuries, luckily rare, which are caused by bleeding into and around the brain. Nearly half of those are fatal despite modern neurosurgical techniques. We have all read the accounts of Michael Watson, who is critically ill. I am informed that he still has not regained consciousness after some weeks. Then there is the much larger group of boxers who suffer from the effects of repeated minor head injuries, some but not all resulting in concussion—loss of consciousness.
It is said that the number of true "punch drunk" ex-boxers —the medical term for that is dementia pugilistica—is less than it used to be, and that may well be so. As many noble Lords have already pointed out, boxing is more carefully supervised today. But the eventual health status of boxers remains uncertain as long as the British Boxing Board of Control declines to co-operate with the British Medical Association in allowing a full health survey of boxers to be undertaken. The technique of computer assisted tomography can now reveal evidence of brain damage well before any clinical or psychological evidence of damage is apparent. Brain damage has been found in the great majority of post mortem studies of ex-professional boxers. For the record, those should be described. I again apologise if my noble friend has already given this information.
First, there is frequent rupture of the septum pellucidum, which is the delicate double membrane of nervous tissue separating the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Secondly, there is evidence of damage to the cerebellum and the substantia nigra of the mid-brain, the parts of the brain concerned with balance and muscular co-ordination. Thirdly, there is atrophy or thinning of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain associated with intellectual functioning. This is the anatomical structure which most clearly distinguishes man from other mammals, a point on which noble Lords should reflect. Is a so-called sport which results, even when fought according to the Queensberry Rules, in damage to our most unique possession—my noble friend may have described it as a God-given possession—justifiable on any grounds?
The fourth type of damage found in the brains of ex-boxers is the microscopic appearance of what are called neuro fibrillary tangles, in which the many intricate connections of a brain cell are instead shrivelled and knotted up. That is a picture characteristic of the brain of those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease—a condition with which I believe most noble Lords will be familiar. Of course, I should stress that they are familiar with it in connection with friends and relatives, and not themselves. It is otherwise known as pre-senile dementia. Although we do not yet know the cause of that very sad affliction, 307 it is of interest that repeated injury, as happens in boxing, can produce a rather similar picture histologically.
I wonder whether it is only boxers who are injured at a boxing match. Joyce Carol Oates, a boxing writer, has described:The electrifying effect upon a typical fight crowd when fighting suddenly emerges out of boxing—when, for instance, a boxer's face begins to bleed—and the fight enters a new and more dangerous phase. The flash of red is the visible sign of the fight's authenticity in the eyes of many spectators and boxers are justified in being proud, as many of them are, of their scars".I suggest that that passage implies that boxing may excite the violent and sadistic urges which lie dormant in most of us. I do not know if any studies on the behaviour of boxing crowds have been carried out but, judging by the manic way drivers behave on their way home from a motor race, I think that it is more than likely that aggressive behaviour is encouraged by witnessing the spectacle of two men hitting each other to applause.
In summary, I believe that with this Bill my noble friend has got it about right. If the financial reward goes, less young men will enter into boxing and even fewer will remain in it. The indecently large profits made by the promoters which underlie the less savoury aspects of boxing will disappear.
I hope that the Minister who is to respond will recognise the strength of the arguments which have been put forward by my noble friends Lord Walton and Lord Taylor of Gryfe and others who oppose boxing, and that he will support the Bill. I also hope that the Government will indicate that they intend eventually to phase out what I can only call a barbaric activity.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Lord Cochrane of Cults
My Lords, I intend to detain the House for only a short time as I am the eleventh speaker. The lure of boxing is quite simply money: it is fighting for gain. We have heard most dramatically from the noble Lords, Lord Walton and Lord Rea about the damage which can be inflicted. Indeed, they spoke with immense authority. I am also most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, for introducing this Bill.
I carried out some research and found, while looking through Hansard, that some years ago, in 1962, a similar Bill was lost. I believe that it was mentioned by the noble Lord. My research revealed that my noble kinsman Lord Rathcavan, who attended this House almost to his one hundredth year, voted against the Bill. Indeed, it was lost. My father remarked of his cousin that at school he was immensely tough. He probably was; he was born in 1883, and went to Eton, where one had to be tough in those days.
There was a splendid and tremendous heavyweight fighter, Gene Tunney, who said:After being unconscious for two days"—and this was in the 1920s—I decided to get out while I still retained my sanity".He was right; he got out in time. He recognised the damage which could be done both to himself and to 308 others. That was in the early days when the punch-drunk syndrome was beginning to be recognised.
I invite your Lordships to consider not our being in the position of stopping boxing but, let us suppose, for example, that there was a great public outcry because a new sport had been introduced in which people stood together in a roped enclosure and battered each other until one was unconscious and was then declared the loser. Surely there would be absolute uproar. Indeed, one might ask: what did they do? Again, the advice may be, "Let him have it hard on the point of the jaw. That does the most damage. Then give a heavy blow to the ribs or body. Finally, hit the jaw again and that will finish the man." Surely we would regard that as revolting?
A very distinguished amateur boxer on the point of becoming a professional about 30 years ago in an interview published in the now long defunct Daily Herald— which, of course, is now the Sun—remarked:I'm no longer a sportsman. How can you call professional boxing a sport, with all the villains and rogues who are part and parcel of the game? It's a business. A hard business all the time, a cruel business some of the time. I've no illusions about the noble art of self-defence or any of that kid stuff. That's all right for the amateurs. But from now on I'm paid to hurt. The more I hurt, the more I'm paid".I believe that those remarks prove that your Lordships would never allow boxing as a new sport to be started, and also prove the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that professional boxing ought to be stopped.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Meston
My Lords, as your Lordships have been reminded, it is almost 30 years since the House rejected on Second Reading a similar Bill introduced by the late Lady Summerskill. The essential arguments have not changed. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, wants to add professional boxing to the list of criminal offences in this country. As I understood him, he does not seek to criminalise the organisers of amateur boxing, although the Bill in its present form may have that effect. Therefore, it must be the professional element in the sport to which he objects.
I have been a boxing fan for almost as long as I can remember. I was a pretty mediocre amateur boxer at school and at university, too often splattered with blood and horizontal. But, at its best, boxing is skilled, disciplined and sporting. Moreover, because it is a disciplined sport it does not perpetrate violence as has been suggested. Boxing does not beget violence; it channels violence.
There are features of professional boxing, as with almost any professional sport, which are less than attractive. The amateur or professional boxer would not get away with the petulant bad temper of some tennis players or the "professional foul" of football. In boxing, the simulated nastiness and needling insults which have become fashionable are supposed to sell seats and television time. The sport would be better off without such obviously bogus "hype".
Although, as I suggested, the essential arguments for and against boxing have not changed, those who enjoy and support boxing as I have always done no 309 longer seek to justify its continuation simply by pointing to other dangerous sports. We can all see that there is potential danger in all sorts of other sports, some of which extends beyond the willing participants to endanger spectators; for example, in motor racing or rescuers in mountaineering. Nor, I suggest, is it particularly helpful to compare the statistics for fatalities or serious disabling injuries in other sports ranging from cricket to horse racing.
However, there is one comparison which can and should he made in looking at this Bill. Boxing is not the only sport in this country in which the aim is directly to hurt your opponent, although I should mention in passing that some of the best boxers seldom win—or have won—by a knockout. As my noble friend Lord Addington said, it would he very strange if professional boxing was abolished and kick boxing and the whole range of so-called "martial arts" involving kicking and otherwise striking the head were left as lawful pursuits.
Professional boxing has a responsible governing body—namely, the British Boxing Board of Control —which does, just as the name suggests, control the sport. As with all governing bodies, it is always looking at ways of minimising the risks and it must know that it cannot be seen to be doing otherwise. The changes over the years, such as fewer rounds and better medical scrutiny before, during and after fights can be pointed to. It is a continuous process which has undoubtedly been galvanised by recent events and renewed criticism. The board must know that at all levels boxing requires scrupulous medical checks, vigilant referees and careful matchmaking.
Boxing must continue to look at ways in which to improve its safety record, just as any other activity must. The weight of gloves may have to be reconsidered. There may need to be better rules to monitor and prevent rapid weight loss by dehydration before a fight; and better rules to stop fights going on too long, although it can be said, without complacency, that British referees are of a high standard, and more than willing to stop a fight when, as has been said, distress or an inability to defend oneself is seen.
There have to be more rules to stop fighters going on too long. Boxers are not always the best judges of what is best for them. Perhaps there should be a form of medical insurance to avoid strain on the NHS, and more encouragement to take professional advice on finance to limit fighters' temptation to put off retirement or to make a come-back to pay tax or regain a standard of living produced in earlier years.
There is also an attractive proposal for a boxing federation to regulate the amateur and professional sport, financed largely by the professional side, which would provide a continuous medical record from schoolboy boxing upwards.
Professional boxing should be allowed to continue. It will have to live with the fact that it will be attacked when things go wrong, and that things go terribly wrong in only a minute number of cases in relation to the number of rounds boxed. It is not just that boxing produces heroes and entertainment to largely well-behaved crowds; it is not just that it has provided 310 a way out of poverty and a decent living for some of the most disadvantaged young men and their families; and it is not just that there must be a risk that professional boxing could be driven underground, with unregulated and unsupervised fights in remote places. To deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Walton, I do not know whether unregulated underground boxing continues in countries where boxing is banned, but they are obviously countries with small populations and little tradition of professional boxing.
No one wants a return to the boxing booths of the past where Jimmy Wilde, that great boxer, was reputed to have had over 700 fights. It is not just that professional boxers will go abroad to fight in countries that may have lower standards of control and supervision than the high standards we have here. The Bill is a deliberate attempt to interfere with the freedom of people to earn a living, subject to the proper controls of its governing body. Even if professional boxing is seen by some of your Lordships as "on probation", it should be left, with the assistance of a strong and independent board of control, to keep its own house in order.
There may be a strong case for making unregulated boxing illegal. There may also be a need for legislation to enable the board of control to have greater powers so that it is less inhibited by the legal doctrine of restraint of trade. Those are matters which may be looked at again, but not in the context of this flawed Bill.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe has done us a favour by giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. I wish to make it clear that, although I am speaking from the Dispatch Box, I am not speaking on behalf of my party. Like other parties, it does not have an official policy on boxing. My view of the subject will form the basis of what I shall say.
I do not cavil at any of the medical evidence that has been produced which shows that boxing is a dangerous and damaging sport. I do not take too seriously the figures produced by my noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa. He said that only two people have been killed while boxing and that shows that the sport is not that dangerous. We cannot take that as an indication that the sport is safe, because we are talking about the number of injuries, not fatalities.
One should watch some of the rugby league matches, because I think that is the most dangerous sport. The game has become so demanding that some of the clubs are now asking for a pool of four substitutes rather than two. Many men are being seriously injured. One has only to think of two 16-stone men running towards each other at full tilt who meet head on. For instance, just two or three weeks ago the English captain Ellery Hanley had his jaw smashed in a number of places. The least said about what happened the better.
We are not talking about just one sport. It is well known that there are numerous lads who will be 311 sitting in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives because they have had their necks broken playing rugby. That does not receive the publicity that boxing receives.
My noble friend Lord Rea said that the Bill might reach fruition. I have to tell him that only three weeks ago in another place in answer to a question from a friend and colleague of mine who happens to be in the Gallery, the Prime Minister categorically refused even to consider banning professional boxing. That is an indication that even if we give the Bill a fair wind and a Second Reading, it will be stopped in its tracks at some time.
There is no question but that there are areas where matters could be improved. I wish to give my opinion as to why more boxers are being hurt now than in the past. I have not watched live professional boxing for a long time. I was weaned on professional boxing at Belle Vue, Manchester when there were some great boxers in the area. There was the great trio of McAvoy, Brown and King. I have seen the great boxers from Liverpool, including Nel Tarleton and Dick Burke, and I have seen some of the great Scottish boxers such as Jackie Patterson and Jim Brady. They were all skilled boxers.
I suspect that many of the head injuries being caused in boxing are due to the fact that the boxers of today—I do not want to appear to be wallowing in nostalgia—are not as skilful as the boxers of the past. The main reason for that is that the route to the top is quicker. Boxers have a few fights. They gain a reputation for heavy punching rather than skilful boxing, and in no time they are high money earners. They are taken over by the promoters and some of the matches that are arranged have to be seen to be believed.
There was a heavyweight contest in this country two or three weeks ago in which the participants were Frank Bruno, a person for whom I have a great respect, and another heavyweight. The inequality of that match was so great that had it been subject to the trade descriptions legislation the promoters would have been prosecuted. Injuries could be avoided if the BBBC ensures that both contestants are similar and that the match is not a one-horse race, designed only to produce a scenario to enable the following boxing match to be arranged with a much bigger fee for the winning participant. That position should be looked at.
I take the point about the medical evidence and doctors' opinions being ignored. I understand that the board's chief medical adviser advised it strongly not to give Frank Bruno back his licence to fight. There was a previous heavyweight Gary Mason, who experienced similar circumstances. He had a double operation for detached retinas. Anyone knows that after an operation of that kind, a tap on the head can destroy the sight of the eye. When the board's medical advisers say that a boxer is not fit to box he should not be given his licence. If the board does not have that power, it should make overtures to your Lordships' House and another place to obtain such a power.
Another point is that the noble Lords, Lord Rea and Lord Walton, referred to the advances that have 312 been made technically in examinations of people for brain damage. I should like to see all boxers, irrespective of the number of their fights, regularly examined to see whether they are fit to continue in the profession. Members of your Lordships' House have talked about the tragedy of Michael Watson and the injuries he suffered in the fight, but two fights before that one, not such a long time earlier, he was involved in a fight for the world championship with a West Indian lad named McCallum. He was literally hammered for about 11 rounds and was finally knocked out. I suggest that that type of beating probably has a far worse effect. I am not talking about the later injuries to Watson but the effects were far worse than would normally have arisen from a quick knock out. I wonder whether Watson had recovered from the effects of that terrific pounding before he was allowed to fight Chris Eubank for the first time. This is another area which should be examined.
The noble Lord, Lord Meston, referred to people drying out. If a boxer fights at the lower weights, a flyweight of eight stone who is four or five pounds overweight the day before is squeezed as dry as though he has been through the old-fashioned wringer. I have seen world champions, and one fight involving a great champion, Jackie Paterson, when he was six pounds overweight the day before the fight. When he was finally put into the ring to defend his title, he could not stand up because he was so weak. I can see no justification for those fights taking place because severe damage is being done and beatings are inflicted on people who have had to make a certain weight in order to take part in the fight. They have then suffered the consequences.
Unfortunately, the promoters are not interested as long as they fill the halls and sell the seats. That is their objective. I have watched some of the great fighters of the past and the objective of each of them is to knock out his opponent. Quite a number of people who have held world championships at various weights over the years did not have a knock-out punch at all. I can think of one, the lad I mentioned from Liverpool, Nel Tarleton. I do not remember him knocking anyone out, but he won hundreds of fights. There was also a featherweight just after the war in America, a fellow named Willie Pep, who hardly knocked anyone out.
These were all clever men who knew how to avoid punishment. One of the sad facts about today's fighters is that, if we watch them, we can see that they appear to think that there is nothing wrong in keeping on hitting their heads on the other fellow's gloves as long as they get close enough to deliver their own punches. I believe that standards have fallen.
We have had a good debate, I hope that it will engender in the boxing board the desire for a reconsideration of the situation and of its powers to act. Where it has the power to act in a positive manner, it should not defy its medical advisers but should give an indication that their advice will be totally accepted and not qualified. Otherwise, what is the point of having medical advisers on such a scale?
The board should also have the power, which it does not have at present, to decide when a match is a 313 mismatch and one boxer is far inferior to the other fellow who is being thrown in against him and may suffer a beating in consequence.
All these points must be considered. Enough has been said by Members of your Lordships' House to give the boxing board cause for serious thought. I have no doubt that the board must in some way diminish the power of promoters in the boxing game and make sure that the board is able to control it in an objective manner.
I shall not vote against the Bill although I am not particularly in favour of it. I cannot see a situation in a society like ours where one could get away with banning boxing, as the Bill suggests. It may well be that if it reaches the Committee stage we can have a further debate with people from outside your Lordships' House who are interested in the game. They may suggest amendments which may be extremely helpful to the game.
The boxing board itself should consider what has been said by various Members of your Lordships' House. If the board's own house needs putting in order and it requires additional powers to do that, it could let us know quickly. I do not believe that it will find your Lordships' House and another place wanting in that respect. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord obtains a Second Reading of the Bill. Then perhaps we may debate the matter further in Committee.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lord Cavendish of Furness
My Lords, first I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, for the manner and the obvious sincerity with which he presented his Bill this evening. I assure your Lordships that the Government share his concern for the safety of boxers. However, we do not believe that the sport should be banned.
Boxing as a sport has a history stretching back over hundreds of years and it is without question part of this country's sporting heritage. It is an established and properly regulated sport at both amateur and professional level and has a wide following among the public. In addition to the 1,000 or so licensed professional boxers in Britain, there are an estimated 35,000 participants of the amateur code. These individuals, at all levels of skill and expertise, share a common love of the sport. They devote considerable amounts of time and energy to their chosen activity. The Bill before us would effectively prevent them from participating in the sport of their choice. It would ban boxing wherever a match was organised for profit, regardless of whether the boxers themselves stand to gain financially. I am sure that your Lordships would agree that, in a free society, we need to think very carefully indeed about introducing such measures.
In presenting his Bill, the noble Lord has placed much emphasis on the safety of boxing and its potential effect on an individual's health. Of course, in any activity—and particularly in those involving physical contact—there is always the possibility of accident or injury, no matter how strict the safeguards 314 are. But I believe that a careful assessment of the evidence suggests that his fears are unfounded and, consequently, that this Bill is unwarranted.
Perhaps I may first deal with fatalities. In giving my statistics, I shall be interested to read tomorrow whether my list matches that of the noble Lord, Lord Brooks; my list is shorter. The figures supplied by coroners to the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show that there have been only three deaths in England and Wales from boxing since 1986 and— happily—none since 1987. By means of comparison, in the same period there have been 62 deaths in motor sports; 59 in air sports; 48 in mountaineering and climbing; 36 in ball games; and 23 in horse riding. It can be seen from this that boxing presents only a very minor threat to life, especially when compared with other hazardous activities where safety is of paramount importance. If we are to ban boxing on the grounds of the risk it poses to life, where are we to stop? Perhaps we should ban cricket too, on the grounds that the same number of individuals died while participating in cricket matches over the same period!
Many noble Lords had anecdotes and personal reminiscences of fighting and watching fighting which I cannot match, having only once broken my jaw when playing "Kick the Can".
If these figures suggest that the risk to life has been exaggerated, then I am pleased to say that the picture is similar when we examine the statistics for injuries obtained as a result of boxing. I draw your Lordships' attention to the results of a recent analysis by the Sports Council into sports accidents, which was derived from the general household surveys of 1987, 1988, and 1989. Despite a small sample there was remarkable consistency across the three years, which allows one to accept the average figures for the three years with some confidence. A standardised risk factor for each sport was calculated by representing the number of sports accidents as a factor of the number of occasions in which individuals participated in each sport. Sports were then placed in one of four categories, ranging from high to negligible risk. The salient finding was that boxing was placed in the negligible risk category.
Another issue that has been raised tonight is the long-term damage to an individual's health that might be caused by boxing. The Government have no hesitation in accepting that, sadly, there are instances where long-term medical problems can be attributable to boxing. Careful monitoring of boxers' health can reduce these risks. But boxing in any event is not unique in this respect. There are, regrettably, a large number of people who suffer from injuries obtained from participating in different sports.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, blamed the Whips' Office for his lateness in coming to the Chamber. I am sorry if the noble Lord was ill-advised, but I hope that he will understand that the matter he complained of is his responsibility and not that of the Whips' Office. The noble Lord used a lot of medical terms when telling the House about the dangers that boxers could face. However, he did not give much indication of how 315 often such symptoms appeared. Therefore I did not feel he was very clear about the kind of medical risk that boxers face.
The simple fact is that there is a risk attached to any challenging activity. If this was removed, then much of the challenge itself would disappear. We live in a free society and an individual has the right to participate in the activity of his choice so long as it is within the law.
Those are the facts. In the light of these, it is difficult to see how the measures proposed by the noble Lord are warranted. If boxing were to be banned because of its perceived dangers, then are we also to ban other activities where death may result? I think not.
Despite that, I would like to emphasise that the Government are not complacent on the issue of boxing safety. They believe strongly that the utmost attention needs to be paid to safety not just in boxing but in all sports where risk is a factor. It may be helpful at this stage to remind your Lordships that the Government do not control boxing, or indeed any other sport in this country. That is the responsibility of the appropriate governing bodies. In the case of professional boxing, this responsibility is borne by the British Boxing Board of Control. For the amateur code it is the Amateur Boxing Association. Together, these organisations provide the framework within which tournaments are sanctioned.
Both the ABA and the BBBC are acutely aware of their responsibilities in protecting the health of boxers. They recognise that boxing, like any activity involving physical contact, has an element of risk attached to it. What is paramount is that the risk is controllable and containable. Medical safeguards are already in place to protect the health and safety of boxers before, during and after tournaments. These include full medical examinations with a detailed list of conditions which would preclude a boxer from holding a licence; brain scans; specialist examinations; and automatic suspensions and further medical examinations in the event of a boxer losing within the scheduled distance.
These safeguards underline the importance attached by the boxing authorities to medical issues. However, it is essential that these standards are kept under constant review and there is always scope for further improvement. The Government recognise this and have played their part in this process. Indeed, my honourable friend the Minister responsible for sport met the BBBC and a number of medical specialists to discuss this very issue as recently as October. As a result of that meeting, the BBBC has recently announced a number of significant improvements to its existing regulations. I believe that was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, in his opening speech.
Some have also voiced objections to the sport on moral grounds. The thought of two people participating in a boxing match is abhorrent to some people. It is argued, for example, that boxing is the only sport where participants deliberately inflict injury upon each other. In responding to this claim, I would draw your Lordships' attention to one very salient point. Here I take issue with the noble Lord who said 316 that boxing is the only sport that involves deliberate violence. Boxing is not the only sport which emphasises combative elements involving physical contact. All the martial arts are similar in nature. That point was made forcefully by the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Meston. Boxing has been portrayed as a sport of brute force. We believe that boxing is a contest of skill where points are awarded in every round for defence as well as for strikes.
The argument has also been advanced that it is uncivilised for spectators to derive pleasure from watching boxing. Noble Lords who hold that view are entitled to their opinion, as is every individual. However, the Bill before us would remove the right of individual choice. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, and other speakers have said that boxing glamorizes and perpetuates violence. Boxing follows a set of rules and safeguards, and rewards skill and courage. There is no evidence that I know of—I do not think that any such evidence has been put forward tonight—which shows that boxing propagates violence in society.
Let me make some other relevant points clear. The participants in a boxing match do so of their own volition —this was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, and others; they do so within the strictest of medical safeguards imposed by reputable governing bodies; they do so within a sporting code that places the emphasis on skill rather than aggression and which contains inbuilt safeguards for the boxer. Moreover, boxers pose no threat to the safety of the general public. I believe that to deprive them of their right to participate in the sport of their choice, within the stringent safeguards imposed by the boxing authorities, is a dangerous precedent and a serious threat to civil liberties. Moreover, to do so would only serve to drive boxing underground—as has been said—and to deprive the boxers themselves of the very safeguards designed to protect them.
In concluding, I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to the immense and deep-rooted popularity of boxing in this country. A recent contest was watched by a truly massive television audience of around 13 million people. That represents around one out of every three adults.
Pugilism took hold of the nation's consciousness in the 18th and 19th centuries during the heyday of the prize-fighter. The game was cleaned up in the 1800s, culminating in the drafting of the Queensberry Rules, which underpin boxing to this day. Our boxing administrators were in the lead then, as they remain now, in doing their utmost to ensure that the sport is as safe as possible. The safeguards imposed by the BBBC contrast vividly with the unsavoury conditions in unlicensed boxing tournaments, which only a fortnight ago were exposed in a television documentary programme.
I hope that what I have said will have persuaded your Lordships that the Government are by no means complacent on the matter of boxing safety. Boxing, like countless other activities, will never be absolutely safe. But, given the evident determination of the boxing authorities to make the sport as safe as possible, we feel that the proposal to ban boxing is both unwarranted and unreasonable.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I believe that every noble Lord who has spoken has declared his allegiance. It would be difficult for me to convert noble Lords to a different point of view. However, I feel there are one or two points that require further clarification. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, on his work with boys' clubs which is admirable work. But why is boxing justified in those clubs? There is a great deal of constructive work and sport which can be organised in boys' clubs that does not involve introducing them to a sport such as boxing.
Thy Earl of Shrewsbury
My Lords, boxing is introduced into boys' clubs because such sports as tennis and squash are not played in the deprived areas where these boys live.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I give full marks to the noble Earl once again for his work. However, I believe that it is not necessary to introduce boxing into boys' clubs. In this Bill I am dealing with professional boxing. Professional boxing is far removed from the boxing that is organised in boys' clubs. If the noble Earl feels that the Bill is badly drafted and does not cover some of the aspects of the sport that he would like to see covered, he has an excellent remedy in seeking to give the Bill a Second Reading. If it receives a Second Reading, the noble Earl will be able to table amendments in Committee. I hope that he will pass through the Lobby to that end.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that it is true that there are other martial arts. However, let us start with boxing as it is clearly defined. If I had introduced a Bill to cover all aspects of physical contact sports, your Lordships would have been rightly critical of me. I am dealing with professional boxing and I seek to ban it. That is what the Bill is concerned with. That should be clearly understood.
It was said that we must not pass a law—
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I referred to other full contact, professional martial arts which are on the increase. If they involve kicking, they are more dangerous. The Bill does not address those aspects. That is why I raised the point and that is why the Bill is not appropriate.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, again, I shall welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in the Lobby tonight so that he may improve the Bill in the manner that he suggests by introducing other martial arts which obviously concern him deeply.
Several speakers have said, "Don't ban professional boxing. It will drive it underground". It is a dangerous doctrine to suggest that we should not pass a law because some people will defy it. Once you give in to that kind of view, life becomes extremely difficult. If we ban professional boxing, it should not be too difficult to ensure that it is policed accordingly.
I was interested in the delightful description of the so-called noble art mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord 318 Meston, who obviously enjoys his boxing. My neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Cochrane of Cults, referred to a speech that I made in an earlier debate on this subject in which one of the great British heavyweights of the time, Billy Walker, was quoted as saying:I've no illusions about the noble art of self-defence or any of that kid stuff. That's all right for the amateurs. But from now on I'm paid to hurt. The more I hurt, the more I'm paid".
On the same occasion—the last time that I raised this matter—I referred to a newspaper report about a fight involving a man called Tony Sibson. The report was simply headed, "Bloodbath". It went on to say:Tony Sibson retained European middleweight title at Wembley last night with a breathtaking, awe-inspiring display of primeval savagery".That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about all this stuff about the skill of boxing. We are talking about real life boxing.
When I entered Glasgow City Council, one of my fellow councillors was the doctor for the Board of Control. He took me to one or two fights. We used to go in before the fights and look at the boys who were about to appear. They were trained to the limit. The doctor passed them as being fit to enter the contest. Some minutes later, those boys would be carried back to the dressing room, eyes closed and blood flowing from them.
That is not a noble art. We have no right to inflict that kind of punishment on other human beings. I strongly believe that our lives, the intricate mechanisms of our brains and our intellects are God-given and that we have a responsibility to use those faculties in his service. It demeans people and is uncivilised conduct for people to knock one another unconscious. Perhaps we should look at the matter this way: if two men were to do outside the ring what they did in the ring before 13 million spectators—that was the figure quoted—they would be arrested and put in prison for assault. However, it is in the ring and people pay money to see those two young athletes punch each other unconscious. That is uncivilised. It is a black mark on our society.
If noble Lords believe that the Bill is not perfect, I encourage them to come into the Lobby and to make it perfect in Committee. They must face this moral challenge: are we entitled to perpetuate those acts? I hope that as many noble Lords as possible will enter the Lobby to support the Bill.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read a second time?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 17; Not-Contents, 20.320
|Division No. 1|
|Airedale, L. [Teller.]||Kagan, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Cochrane of Cults, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|David, B.||McNair, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Rea, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Taylor of Gryfe, L. [Teller.]|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Addington, L. [Teller.]||Howe, E.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Long, V.|
|Balfour, E.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Meston, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Monson, L.|
|Greenway, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Reay, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Seccombc, B.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Shrewsbury, E. [Teller.]||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion for Second disagreed to accordingly.
§ House adjourned at thirteen minutes past nine o'clock.