§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether, in the light of the British Medical Association's report The Boxing Debate, they will consider setting up an independent inquiry into the risks of brain injury associated with boxing.
No, my Lords. The Government believe that individuals should have the freedom to participate in the sport of their choice, in the full knowledge of the risks involved. Medical safeguards in Britain are among the most stringent in the world.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the report is a very thorough and objective analysis of the extent of brain damage, injury to eyesight and occasional death arising from the practice of that so-called sport? Is he aware also that, while other sports incur some danger of injury, boxing is the only so-called sport in which success is measured by one man knocking another man unconscious? Does it not encourage violence at a time when violence is a major social evil in our society?
My Lords, we welcome all views on how safety may be further enhanced in sport. It is for the boxing authorities to consider whether any further improvements in medical safeguards can be made in the light of the BMA's report. I am sure that the report will be studied carefully by the boxing authorities.
I feel that I should correct the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. I am sure he will be aware that in 1867 the Marquess of Queensberry Rules were introduced with an emphasis on points awarded for solid blows struck and decisions made by judges on points. Most matches are decided in that way and not by knock-out blows.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, on the assumption that Her Majesty's Government never close their mind, is my noble friend aware that brain injury caused by boxing is nearly always incurable and scarcely ever accidental? It is caused by deliberate punches at the head. In other sports nearly all the injuries—as in cricket, football, hunting and so on—are caused by accidental injury and not by deliberate action.
My Lords, assessments of long-term damage to boxers are based on relatively small samples drawn predominantly from the United States of America. That makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions. There may be need for further research into the long-term consequences of boxing, but I should stress that the safeguards in Britain are among the most rigorous in the world and that they have been significantly strengthened in the past 18 months.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many Members of the Government were boxers in their youth?
No, my Lords, not precisely. However, I can tell the noble Lord that there are a number who are sitting on the Front Bench today who indulged in the noble art.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, although it is essential that the Government should take account of all such research into injuries occasioned through sport, it is important to make a balanced judgment of such matters. Is the noble Viscount aware that some years ago I commissioned research into sports injuries at school based on the percentage of youngsters taking part? The result of that research showed that boxing was at the bottom of the list and that swimming and rugby were at the top. Therefore, should we not be most careful as regards the criteria that we adopt when making such judgments?
My Lords, the noble Lord has great experience in sports and has made an important point. It is essential that risks should be kept in perspective. Statistics collated by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show that there have been only three instances in England and Wales since 1986 where boxing has resulted in death. That is less than in several other sports; for example, riding, mountaineering and motor sports. The figures show that there were as many deaths in cricket as there were in 345 boxing. However, most of them involved not the players but umpires overcome by heat, excitement or other ailments while umpiring the match.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, is the Minister aware that his original Answer was most welcome? May I point out to him—
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, is the Minister aware that in my old constituency we have one of the finest boys' clubs ever known? The boys are taught under the Queensberry Rules and they suffer no damage at all. If such clubs were shut down, it would simply mean that such youngsters would go out on the streets. As I said, the Minister gave a very good reply.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, that to ban boxing would drive the sport underground and remove boxers from the protection of the 'very important safeguards that they now enjoy. There are 35,000 registered amateur boxers in England, 2,000 in Scotland and over 900 clubs in the country. It is a large and significant sport. I should also point out that boxing is an Olympic sport; indeed, it has been since the 7th century when it first became part of the Olympic Games. Our boxers took part in the Barcelona Olympics and will take part in the next Olympic Games.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, has the Minister heard of the Croydon Ex-Boxers' Association, of which I am proud to be an honorary member? I agree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. If such an inquiry is ever set up, I hope that that splendid body will be called upon to give evidence. Those concerned will be able to show how many boys from underprivileged backgrounds have been taught self-discipline and good sportsmanship and have gone on to become first-class citizens as a result of participation and proper training in the noble sport.
My Lords, the British Boxing Board of Control will be forwarding the views of its medical panel on the BMA's report to my department. It is important to note that the BMA's opinions seem to be based more on moral judgments about the ethics of the activity rather than on medical facts. There are a number of activities, not just of a sporting nature, which do not meet with everyone's approval. However, we should recognise that, like all sports, boxing is essentially a contest where skill and fitness are primarily the determinants of success.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, as distinct from the other sports mentioned by the noble Viscount in the course of his answers, is it not the case that the damage done to youths as a result of boxing can develop very much later in life? Could that possibly account for the punch-drunk condition of the Government?
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I am really sorry that the matter is being treated in such a flippant way. Is 346 the Minister aware that there have been reports for 25 years or more from very famous ophthalmologists stating what damage can be caused to the eyes and to the brain? There are many other ways for young people to learn discipline in sport. Will the Minister kindly go away, find out and then read some of the older evidence that exists as regards the dangers of the sport?
My Lords, we believe that in a free society individuals should have the right to participate in the activity of their choice, so long as it is within the law and they are fully aware of the associated risks.
§ Lord Donoughue
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is a serious matter. Does he also agree that the right and sensible approach is not the total banning of the sport, where the injuries are probably less than is the case in some others, but the use of the best possible and tightest regulations, monitoring and medical back-up? I believe that that should be the approach.
Further, on sports injuries in general, does the Minister have any information—indeed. perhaps the BMA could carry out a study—on the potential long-term damage (either psychological or brain damage) to tens of thousands of sports lovers who have suffered long and punishing hours watching the England cricket team?
My Lords, I agree with the first part of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. He made an important point. As I have said before, we regard safety as of great importance in sport. There is now always a doctor present during tournaments, and accident and emergency services are alerted. Further, there is regular HIV testing and hepatitis B inoculations. We take the matter most seriously. Of course, in any other sport there are injuries; indeed, high-risk sports are rugger, hockey and climbing. However, if we look at the survey of injuries in the low-risk category, boxing is found to be similar to billiards and golf.
My Lords, with regard to injuries to the eyes, is my noble friend aware that the British Boxing Board of Control has for some years been investigating the design of the thumbless glove? Can he say whether the board has come to any conclusions on the matter?
My Lords, I do not know about the thumbless glove. However, I can tell my noble friend that in amateur boxing compulsory headgear and gumshields must be worn.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, is the Minister aware that his statistical analysis is totally misleading and invalid? There are thousands of people who play rugby football, but an average boxer only boxes, at most, four times a year. Inevitably, with rugby players playing every week, and thousands of them playing throughout the country, there are more injuries in that sport than is the case with boxing. ft is totally misleading to produce such statistics.
My Lords, I used those statistics while replying in agreement to the noble Lord's noble friend Lord Howell.
§ Lord Hesketh
My Lords, we have passed the thirtieth minute and I have no intention of giving way to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale.