HL Deb 06 December 1995 vol 567 cc1013-40

5.56 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It may be helpful if I say a word first about the procedure for dealing with this Bill. Noble Lords will have noticed on the Order Paper that an amendment may be moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. The noble and learned Lord is seeking to commit the Bill to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, but in order that it may be committed to a Select Committee I must first obtain its Second Reading tonight. Therefore, I shall not pursue the debate in its usual terms but simply argue that this is a matter of sufficient importance and concern to warrant a Select Committee looking at the subject. Noble Lords who feel strongly about the matter one way or the other will, I hope, agree that it is of some importance and that a Select Committee is necessary. In order to achieve that end, I must have the approval of the House with regard to the Bill's Second Reading.

The Bill has a long history. I have pursued this matter over a number of years. It was originally introduced to the House by Lady Summerskill in 1962. I have had discussions on this Bill in your Lordships' House on a number of occasions since. On each occasion I was knocked out in the first round, as someone has said, and I did not succeed in gaining the Bill its Second Reading. That is a most unusual occurrence in your Lordships' House. I have always felt that a Second Reading could be justified as this is a matter of public concern. However, I hope that tonight, because of the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, we shall succeed in gaining the Bill its Second Reading.

There is no doubt that it is a matter of some concern and of some interest to the public. There is a substantial number of programmes on the subject on TV and radio. The public are interested in the matter. There is of course the special interest of the BMA. I speak with its full support in alerting the public to the dangers of professional boxing. In the Bill I am not dealing with amateur boxing, boys' clubs and that kind of three-rounders where no substantial injury is inflicted; I am dealing with professional boxing. Some people may say, "It is not a very well drafted Bill". I admit that that is the case. It has weaknesses, but they can be dealt with in the kind of committee suggested by the noble and learned Lord.

I have returned to the subject because of the events that took place in Glasgow just a few weeks ago when a young man was killed in the ring. Some of the enthusiastic supporters on both sides proceeded to throw chairs and glasses at one another in a form of riot. It was not an attractive scene. This young athlete was taken from the ring and subsequently died.

If one looks at the recent history of the ring, it is not an edifying experience. Michael Watson is now paralysed and in a wheelchair; Gerald McLellan is permanently paralysed; Bradley Stone died just over 18 months ago; and James Murray died a few weeks ago. There should be some concern about that kind of experience and record.

Society is concerned nowadays about violence and the proliferation of violence in our communities. I notice, and perhaps I may draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, a document which was provided to me about programme standards in the BBC. One of the terms that the BBC is asked to observe is the need for proper vigilance in the portrayal of violence. Why is that so? Why is that written into the BBC code? It is because we recognise that the portrayal of violence is something that should be controlled, limited and restricted in a civilised society.

The portrayal of violence is evident in the boxing ring. On the previous occasion when we discussed this matter, I referred to a fight between Nigel Benn and Gerald McLellan. Nigel Benn entered the ring and blazoned upon his wrapper were the words, "The Black Destroyer". The other man, interviewed before the fight, said, "I get a buzz every time I knock a man unconscious". If that is not evidence of violent behaviour I do not know what is. The impact of boxing on violence in society is one of the issues that might be looked at by a Select Committee.

I am interested also in a matter that will be dealt with at greater length by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Some of your Lordships may have read of a recent case in which a group of people met and inflicted bodily harm upon one another. They were masochists and evidently derived some sexual pleasure from that experience. The courts found—there was an appeal to the House of Lords—that it was a crime to inflict bodily harm on someone else even if that other person permitted and invited it.

The 1861 Act provides that: Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously … wound or cause any grievous bodily harm",

shall commit an offence. The two people who are in the ring together are there by common consent. They have agreed to go in. What are they engaged in? They are engaged in a contest to inflict bodily harm on the opponent. The object is to knock a man unconscious. Surely that is a matter that might also be considered by the Select Committee.

We have abolished certain activities in this country. We have abolished cock fighting, for example. We have abolished bare-knuckle fighting. We should look also at whether boxing is not equally reprehensible. There is a great concern in this country about animals and their welfare. We legislate to protect animals from punishment and dangers. We should be equally concerned about inflicting bodily harm on other human beings. There is a moral issue involved in this matter.

When we discussed this matter previously we were asked, "What about other sports? There are other sports such as rugby football, soccer, and so on, where people get hurt and damaged". But in no other sport is there an intention to inflict bodily harm. In rugby football and some of those other sports it is an accident. There are codes and rules designed to prevent the infliction of bodily harm or any accident. Boxing is the only sport in which the infliction of bodily harm is the purpose of the exercise.

Some people have said to me, "If you ban professional boxing, you will drive it underground". That is not a doctrine I can appreciate: you must not pass a law because someone will defy it. That is no justification. The profits of professional boxing come from public demonstrations of professional boxing and the TV coverage of professional boxing. To say that boxing will be driven underground and some people will break the law if you pass it is not a good reason for abstaining from passing the law. Someone else has said, "It inflicts discipline on young people. Young boys learn discipline from boxing in boys' clubs and so on". But there are many ways of learning the art of good discipline other than by perpetuating boxing.

Tonight we can enable the House to have a special look at the issue. We can do that by passing the Second Reading and accepting the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Taylor of Gryfe.)

6.09 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I must declare an interest in that for more than 15 years I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the Staffordshire Association of Boys Clubs. That is an excellent body of people which provides money for clubs within Staffordshire in order to improve the facilities therein and to help boys from deprived areas, of which we have a number—

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl. The Bill does not deal with boys' clubs. It deals exclusively with professional boxing.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, the Bill has a bearing on boys' clubs. I was about to say that we derive the majority of our finance through our fund-raising activities. We put on sporting boxing matches with boys' clubs boxing against one another. Indeed, we have the Midlands Area Championships at which people provide us with profits by paying for tables. Therefore, the activity is profit-making and falls within the remit of the Bill.

I do not propose to speak at great length on the Bill before your Lordships tonight. All the ground has been covered; namely, on 4th December 1991 (col. 290 of the Official Report) and more recently on 5th April of this year when my noble friend Lord Oxfuird managed to persuade your Lordships to refuse the then Bill a Second Reading (col. 288). It seems to me that, except for the date, the wording of the Bill has not changed since 1991, yet here we are again debating the same issue.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, on his determination and tenacity in bringing this Bill before your Lordships again. I assure your Lordships that I am the first to acknowledge that, if he fails tonight, it will not be long before the Bill is back before us. I know that he will continue with the issue until such time as he receives satisfaction. I am sure that that is admirable.

Boxing is a major sport and it is followed by millions of enthusiasts the world over. Of course, it is a contact sport which by its very nature carries serious risks to the participants. But so do all contact sports. Many sports which are not classed as contact sports involve serious risks too. Perhaps I may give the examples of horse-racing and motor racing, to name but two. It must be said that boxing is most certainly not the highest risk sport in terms of the number of people injured.

Boxing, both amateur and professional, is a better regulated sport than it ever has been. Boxing in the United Kingdom is by far the best regulated boxing in the world. We should be proud of that. In the light of recent tragedies in the ring—and they have been awful—the authorities which regulate the sport in the United Kingdom have tightened their rules even further and will continue to do so. I speak with no knowledge of the authorities. No one from the authorities has contacted me and I certainly have not contacted anyone.. I speak entirely as a boxing enthusiast.

Boxing enthusiasts—and I have said that I am one—have every sympathy with the families who have suffered loved ones being either maimed or fatally injured in pursuit of their professional career in the ring and, indeed, in the amateur game in pursuit of excellence in the sport of their choice. That is most important. Such awful injuries seldom occur, but when they do they hit the headlines because boxing is a controversial sport and controversy sells newspapers.

Nobody is forced to take part in boxing or in any other sport of which I know. It is a matter of complete choice for the individual. It is only at the very top of the sport that huge purses exist. Personally, I object to such enormous pay-days, with many hangers-on creaming off the top layer of the money. Many professional boxers box two or three times a week all over the country, providing after-dinner entertainment at sporting clubs and many other places. They earn very little indeed. They do it because they want to.

Such financial incentives at the top of the tree are a fact of life these days in almost every sport that has a professional side. Whether we like it or not, sport is followed by vast numbers of people. With modem methods of bringing televised sport into every living room in the land, the money stakes become larger still on a daily basis. I find that pretty horrendous but it is a fact of life.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, completely refutes the argument that, if banned, the sport would go underground. But it already is underground and has been for years. The noble Lord gave the example of cock fighting. That is completely illegal, and so it should be. It is a vile sport, but it takes place. If we do not live in the real world we do not see such things. But it does happen.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that there is unregulated boxing in this country today. It most certainly will go underground if banned and I am sure that your Lordships would not wish those circumstances to occur with no regulation whatever and much higher risks of very serious injuries occurring without any medical assistance. That would be a very large burden for your Lordships to carry on their consciences.

What about the amateur game? There, tournaments are put on to raise large amounts of money for charitable purposes. I have already mentioned the Staffordshire Association of Boys Clubs, and that is affiliated to the national association. It provides sporting and club facilities for lads from truly deprived areas. We found that the only good way of raising substantial funds was by putting on boxing evenings. People pay to go and they are delighted to be there. Such games have a great following and are extremely well regulated too. However, under the Bill anyone who raised funds in such a way would be classed as making a profit out of boxing and the organisers would be liable for prosecution. That cannot be right.

Perhaps I may return briefly to the fact that boxers participate of their own free will, knowing full well all the risks attached. All sportsmen do. I was a very, very, very bad amateur jockey. I hate to tell your Lordships that in my first season I had 36 rides, during which I had 34 falls, one horse pulled up and one refused. That is not a good record to have. I hurt myself on numerous occasions and eventually I retired 20 years later having had only two winners. Your Lordships would never have bet on me. But I thoroughly enjoyed what I did. No one forced me into it and I made no money out of it whatever. It was something that I wanted to do of my own free choice.

On Monday evening I had the pleasure of sitting next to Nigel Mansell. Your Lordships will know that he is a superb racing driver. He assured me that he was not retiring. Some of us may think that perhapsohe is a little over the hill now, but never mind. We discussed the noble Lord's Bill. Mr. Mansell has achieved in his sport of motor racing the highest goals and has had some horrific accidents. He told me that he knew all the risks and all the dangers involved but that it was entirely his decision to take part. He started as an amateur. There is no point in trying to make money because as an amateur one cannot. It happened that he was good enough to take part in the professional sport and to excel at it. I reiterate that the choice is up to the individual; and who are we to deny people that right?

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has very serious moral views about boxing; I appreciate that entirely. However, I am sure that if his Bill succeeds, a dangerous precedent will have been created and that it will follow that all sports which have an element of danger to humans will be at risk. The noble Lord mentioned other sports such as football where accidents happen. One has only to read the newspapers to know that a number of what are supposed to be accidents are intentional, which is why a number of such incidents have come in front of the courts.

Finally, I do not believe that the Bill will stand amending in Committee. It is far too wide-ranging in its form and in order to get anywhere it must be completely redrafted. I have no legal brain and that is purely my own feeling. But it is not for Parliament to legislate against sport, either this sport or sport in general. It is for the appropriate regulatory bodies which govern the sports constantly to improve their standards and to minimise the potential risks for all those who participate at any level. As was said by my noble friend Lord Oxfuird during the debate on 5th April: Adaptation and not banning is the answer".—[Official Report, 5/4/95; col. 292.]

I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and at end insert ("this day six months").—(The Earl of Shrewsbury.)

6.19 p.m.

Lord Brightman

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, for saying that he is content that the Bill should not proceed along the usual lines but should be referred to a Select Committee so that its merits and demerits can be examined and . reported to the House.

The advantage of the Select Committee procedure is that the committee will receive evidence from informed sources and must then make a written report to the House. The committee can reject the Bill outright, amend it or promote its own Bill. In either of the latter two events, the Bill will return to your Lordships for a full Committee stage on the Floor of the House. The House, with the benefit of the report it has received from the Select Committee, can do anything it pleases with the Bill. In particular, the committee can amend the Bill to clear up an ambiguity highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the last occasion; namely, whether the Bill covers kick-boxing, which I understand has been introduced from Thailand and involves punching the head with the feet. The Select Committee can clear up any other ambiguities which are contained in the Bill.

In 1984, the controversial Parochial Charities (Neighbourhood Trusts) Bill and the Small Charities Bill were referred to a Select Committee for evidence and a report. The Select Committee denied both Bills a further reading and drafted its own Bill which became the highly successful Charities Act 1985.

However, this Boxing Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, can be sent to a Select Committee only if your Lordships permit the Bill a Second Reading. I feel sure that none of your Lordships will wish to deny the House and, indeed, the public the benefit of the evidence and the independent report which a Select Committee is in a position to provide. The report of the Select Committee will guide the House to a responsible conclusion. And it will avoid the House being troubled again and again and again by a boxing Bill as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I feel certain, will accept the considered view of this House based upon evidence and an appropriate investigation and report by a Select Committee.

Lord Renton

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord proceeds, perhaps he will clarify one point. He says that a Select Committee would have power to reject the Bill. Would it not be more accurate to say that it would have power to recommend rejection of the Bill?

Lord Brightman

My Lords, I stand to be corrected but my understanding of the rules is that if a Select Committee reports against a Bill which has been referred to it, the Bill does not proceed further. I may be wrong but that is my understanding of the Orders of the House. I shall check that.

In our last debate, we had the advantage of the presence of the president of the Lonsdale Club, the vice-president of the Lonsdale Club, the vice-president of the British Board of Boxing Control and an appeal steward of the British Board of Boxing Control. I am not certain whether they are all present tonight but I am sure that their superior knowledge and expertise would be of immense value to a Select Committee when taking evidence.

As has already been said, the Bill is not intended to do anything at all about amateur boxing which, as one of your Lordships said in our last debate, "helps young men to learn discipline, responsibility and competitive skills".—(Official Report, 5/4/95; col. 291.]

Nor, I understand, is it the intention to do anything about boxing in boys' clubs.

I have no committed stance against professional boxing. I have no experience of it; I have never been a spectator. I do not even watch it on television. Therefore, I cannot pretend to know the answer to the question until I have heard the evidence and seen what report a Select Committee produces.

I do not attach very much weight to the argument so often advanced that to ban professional boxing would merely drive it underground or abroad. The same argument can be advanced against the banning of cock fighting, bear fighting and dog fighting but no one wishes to see those pastimes legalised.

Again, I do not attach much weight to the fact that there are more deaths in motor racing, mountain climbing, point to point racing, ocean sailing, hang-gliding and other exciting and dangerous sports than there are in boxing. In none of those activities is one contestant endeavouring to inflict a physical injury on his opponent. In my view, that is the question mark which stands over professional boxing. Since dueling with rapiers became unlawful two or more centuries ago, there is no other contest tolerated in this country where one contestant seeks to inflict a physical injury on his opponent which may cause disablement—temporary or reversible, it is hoped, but sometimes, unfortunately, irreversible.

My noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant put his name down to speak in this debate. Unfortunately, he is not able to be present so we are deprived of his great knowledge of head injuries. However, he has authorised me to say that had he been here he would have supported strongly the proposal that the Bill should go to a Select Committee for evidence and a report. My noble friend has also authorised me to quote from the speech he made in 1991. Among other things, he said: There is powerful neurological evidence to indicate clearly that a severe blow to the head, however caused … almost inevitably results in the death of a small number of brain cells … 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 … 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".—[Official Report, 4/12/91; col. 296.]

I submit respectively that the responsible course for this House to take is to grant the Bill a Second Reading so that it can be sent to a Select Committee under arrangements which will fall to be considered by the Liaison Committee.

I earnestly hope that the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, will, in the circumstances, feel able to withdraw his amendment that the Bill be read a second time in six months and that the Bill will therefore he given a Second Reading. If that is done, it will not be a victory for the anti-boxing lobby; it will be a victory for common sense. I also hope that any newspaper which sees fit to report our debate this evening will not say, if a Second Reading is granted, that the anti-boxing lobby has at last won. That would be quite untrue. There has been so much discussion and comment in the press, and elsewhere, about professional boxing that I feel we have a duty to look at the topic and not be seen to dismiss criticism out of hand.

I shall have no further right to speak in the debate after I sit down. Therefore, perhaps I may explain why I intend not to move my Motion if the Bill is given a Second Reading. I tabled my Motion for commitment to a Select Committee in order that the House might debate the merits of that course of action. However, under our current procedure, I am advised that it is ultimately a matter for the Liaison Committee to express its view as to whether it is appropriate and practical for the Bill to be committed to a Select Committee. Pressure of business and availability of resources are relevant to that question.

Accordingly, if noble Lords give the Bill a Second Reading—as I so much hope they will—I shall not move my Motion this evening in the hope that the Liaison Committee will recommend re-commitment to a Select Committee.

6.31 p.m.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, having listened to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, I hope that the noble Earl will not press his Motion to throw out the Bill and that he will accept that it is highly desirable at present to have a Select Committee so that this most important matter can be considered.

I have to apologise to the House for having been wrong on the last occasion that we held one of these debates. I suggested that it was the heavyweights that caused the damage. I was wrong about that because the recent disgraceful scenes in Glasgow which ended in tragedy arose out of a contest between lightweights. Apparently the weight of the contestants does not come into it; a fatal or serious injury can result from a lightweight fight exactly as it can from a heavyweight fight.

Comparison between the deliberate violence of the boxing ring and the accidental violence in a contact sport is totally irrelevant; indeed, the two things really do not come together in any way. I believe that the noble and learned Lord made that point. I cannot but think that even primitive man, on observing the human body and the bony hard skull at one end of it and nowhere else, must surely have realised that there was something rather special inside the skull which needed to be specially tended.

Now that doctors have much more sophisticated ideas about what goes on inside the bony skull, we must listen to them. Doctors are not squeamish or faint-hearted people. When rugger matches, university rags or, indeed, boat race nights take place, medical students will be found right in the thick of it. Therefore, when doctors start telling us that there is something very serious and dangerous going on in the boxing ring, we really need to pay attention to them.

We have been told about the "undergrounding" of boxing—if I may use that expression. Indeed, that has been mentioned this evening. It was also referred to by my noble friend Lord Falkland on the last occasion that we debated the matter. My noble friend was interrupted during his speech by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, (and we look forward to hearing from the noble Lord later) who asked: Has the noble Viscount considered the fact that if it were to go underground there would be no hope of the large rewards being made to professional boxers?".—[Official Report, 5/4/95; col. 302.]

Of course, that would eliminate the professional boxer who is only in it for the money and not doing it for fun because he thinks that it is a worthwhile sport.

Further, what are the police doing? Do they conduct all their activities upon the surface? Do they. never delve into what goes on underground? It is hard to believe that the police can be unaware or unmindful of boxing matches going on underground to any great extent.

I turn now to the tragedy in Glasgow which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned. In that respect, I believe that every spectator needs to say to himself, "If I and my fellow spectators didn't enjoy as entertainment watching two young men trying to bash each other into insensibility, then that young man in Glasgow who is now dead would still be alive today". I hope that the Bill will be referred to a Select Committee.

6.38 p.m.

Lord Howell

My Lords, although I shall vote against the Bill, I want to express my appreciation to my noble friend for allowing us the opportunity to discuss some of the issues involved. There are rational arguments to be considered on both sides of the question. I am well aware of the considerations forcefully put before us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. However, I am bound to say to the noble and learned Lord that it seems to me to be an extraordinary procedure—and I am not quite sure if we are to vote on the amendment before or after the Second Reading vote—to state that we want a Select Committee to examine all the arguments about boxing and that we will decide the issue on the Second Reading of a Bill of one clause, such as that now before the House.

I can understand that the Government may wish to hold an inquiry into boxing. When I had some responsibility for sport I held inquiries into football but I established those inquiries in the way in which that is normally done, with proper terms of reference. I did not set up an inquiry, as it were, as an adjunct of a one-clause Bill, in the way that is now being proposed. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, will consider whether, if he wants a Select Committee or an inquiry to consider this matter, this is the appropriate way to bring that about. I honestly do not think that it is.

I wish to comment briefly on the remarkable suggestion that injuries caused in other sports are brought about by accidental fouls. I can assure the House on the basis of my 20 odd years' experience as a football referee that in the laws of football there is no such thing as an accidental foul. A foul is committed intentionally. I am bound to say with great regret that much intentional fouling occurs today in football, rugby and other sports. That is a sad situation. Let us not think that intentional injuries are being caused in boxing but not in other sports. People who believe that are living in Cloud-cuckoo-land. I do not believe that that is an argument in favour—

Lord Renton

My Lords, on the point that the noble Lord has just made, surely he would agree that in boxing the aggression is within the rules whereas an intentional foul is against the rules?

Lord Howell

My Lords, I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord on that point. I was just about to deal with amateur and especially schoolboy boxing in which I indulged in my day. That may account for people perhaps thinking that I have suffered from intellectual damage ever since. I have sought during a long period in politics to get over that unfortunate occurrence.

I believe it is illogical of my noble friend Lord Taylor to say that he disregards amateur boxing and schoolboy boxing because they are not intended to cause injury.. I can assure the noble Lord that there is just as much of an intention to cause distress to the opponent in amateur boxing and, I suppose, in schoolboy boxing as there is in professional boxing. To disregard schoolboy and amateur boxing for the purposes of this Bill is to my mind illogical. However, of course I am glad that he is trying to be illogical in that respect.

I do not intend to speak for too long but later I shall return to the governance that the Boxing Board of Control should exercise. I still follow schoolboy boxing. At the slightest sign of any difficulty or distress in schoolboy boxing the contest is stopped. I believe one can say the same thing about amateur boxing. I hesitate to criticise the British Boxing Board of Control in the presence of my noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, but I believe it is unable to exercise the same rigid control over professional boxing as is found in schoolboy and amateur boxing.

I refer to disgraceful crowd scenes that have taken place at Glasgow and Birmingham. Let us not think, however, that that is unique to boxing. I spent years addressing the problem of disgraceful crowd scenes at football matches. I set up committees of inquiry. Finally the noble and learned Lord, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, the Lord Chief Justice, investigated the serious problems which arose at Hillsborough. I was present at Hillsborough and witnessed the problems. Serious problems have been associated with football. More recently problems, although less serious, have been associated with Rugby League, where disturbing crowd scenes have occurred. That is a phenomenon to which we rightly have to pay attention but it would be wrong to propose that as a unique argument in favour of this Bill as those situations occur in other sports.

I have several areas of anxiety regarding this matter and I understand why my noble friend has raised these matters. I am concerned, for example, about the arrangements that are put in hand as regards professional boxing before a contest even begins. We are told that pre-fight arrangements are now made with the nearest neurosurgical hospital and that ambulances have to be kept on standby. Specialist doctors are to be found at the corners of the ring. I concede an argument against myself, as it were, but I am bound to say that if those involved in the sport have to go to those lengths to try to safeguard the well-being of the participants, that merits the kind of debate we are having today. Such matters must be seriously considered.

I have given the matter considerable thought over many years and I return again and again to what seems to me to be the overriding question. The question is not whether or not we should ban boxing—that is not the matter we are discussing tonight—but whether we should prevent the exercise of free will on behalf of citizens who, knowing all the dangers, nevertheless wish to participate in this sport. That seems to me to be the essence of this matter. There can be no doubt at all that, whether we like it or not, people wish to participate in boxing. They must know all the risks involved. The recent deaths and injuries cannot have occurred without people understanding the risks which are involved in boxing.

I accept that people do not take up motor sports, mountaineering and other such dangerous sports to inflict injury. But injury is almost inevitable when one undertakes those sports. However, should we ban boxing, we shall soon be confronted with the argument as to whether we should allow people to indulge in dangerous sports where there is a risk that they may endanger themselves and others. For example, motor cars leave the track and smash into spectators. People who climb mountains are roped to one another and if one of them falls he often injures others. I have always found that to be a compelling argument. I do not believe we should exercise a legal right to prevent the exercise of free will on the part of our fellow citizens.

I wish to draw to the attention of the House and the British Boxing Board of Control further steps that could be taken. First, I believe that many injuries are caused as a result of the wasting that boxers endure to achieve the weight at which they wish to fight. That certainly limits their physical prowess and constitutes a danger. I hope that we shall try to stop that. Boxers should fight at their natural weight and should not be forced to undergo a reducing process which can have such dangerous effects. Incidentally, it is interesting that none of the boxing accidents which have been mentioned has occurred with heavyweight boxers. Heavyweight boxers do not attempt to reduce their weight. It is remarkable that they do not appear to suffer the injuries that we are discussing. It is worth mentioning that.

Secondly, in my judgment, fights which are becoming one-sided should be stopped by the referee more quickly than at present. The British Boxing Board of Control has much to answer for. I know that it may have angry crowds, but if a fight is becoming one sided it should not be allowed to continue. So often we see on our television screens fights which proceed much further than they should.

Thirdly, I believe that the British Boxing Board of Control should introduce compulsory head protection for people engaged in the sport. That has not been introduced in this country and, in my judgment, it should be.

I feel strongly about one issue which I believe that a governing body of sport should control. I illustrate the matter by referring to the extraordinary performances of the boxer known as Prince Naseem Hamed. Noble Lords may have seen this man. He prances around the ring leering at his opponents, behaving in the most nauseating fashion. Whatever he is up to, it cannot possibly be defended under the term of sportsmanship. In most sports ungentlemanly conduct is an offence against the rules. If it is not so in boxing, it should be made so at once if our friends in boxing want, as they say, to clean up their act. We do not want such leering provocation and nauseating behaviour by this young man or anyone else. It has happened before and should be stopped.

I conclude by saying that boxing has to control itself. If it does not, it will. destroy itself. That is another fear to which we should have regard. However, on the main question, do not let us interfere with the exercise of free will for sporting people if they wish to take up boxing, but let us see that they do so under sensible, controlled circumstances.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I should have thought that it was a strange manifestation of the democratic process if there is to be a denial of a proper investigation of an activity in regard to which there is now a strongly arguable case that it is unlawful, and an activity which involves, as its main aim, the infliction of bodily injury. Like my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman, I wish to hear and evaluate the rational arguments which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said exist on both sides.

I am not parti pris. I and my two brothers—respectively, Ackners 1, 2 and 3, at our prep school—were all involved in being trained to box. It was a strong feature of the school, justified on the basis, among other things, that it taught one to keep one's temper and to be a good loser—characteristics which came in handy from time to time at the Bar in later life. Those days were long ago, and I was sorry to learn on 'phoning the headmaster's secretary that eight years ago boxing at the school had been stopped because of the appreciation of the possibility that damage could be done. That possibility may be remote when one is dealing with youngsters up to the age of 13, but it is still possible.

I have referred to the legal position and I should like to say a little about that, in particular in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, whose great efforts in the case in the House of Lords to which I shall refer failed (I was not a party to the Judicial Committee) but failed with a respectable minority of two in the ultimate decision. That was the oddest of cases. It involved the appellants being convicted of assaults occasioning actual bodily harm. The incidents leading up to the convictions occurred in consensual sado-masochistic homosexual encounters. In that case it was held that the consents—no doubt the enthusiastic consents—of all those who gained satisfaction from the activities described in the judgment was no defence because what they set out to do, and what they achieved in doing, was to cause bodily harm to those who were the subject matter of their sadism. Bodily harm in law has a very wide connotation. It is, any injury or hurt which interferes with a person's health or comfort".

That understates the aims of any boxer. He is obviously anxious to do a great deal more than that. That differentiates boxing from other sporting activities where contact is involved because the aim and purpose of the contest is by bodily hurt or injury ultimately, if possible, to knock a person unconscious. In other sports which involve danger the aim and purpose is not, for example, to crash one's racing car. The aim and purpose is not to commit foul after foul because one will not survive on the rugger or football field, one hopes, for long if that is the case. The aim and the purpose is to carry out that sport with the minimum of pain and hurt to anyone involved.

The purpose of boxing, to which I have referred, and I believe the now accepted medical material, show that that activity is very probably now unlawful. In R v. Brown their Lordships referred to elderly cases dealing with prize fighting and other fights. It is interesting to see how this was approached. The case much relied upon, R v. Coney in 1882, involved the consideration by 11 judges of prize fighting. I am happy to say that on this point they were unanimous. Mr. Justice Cave said this at page 539 of 8 Queen's Bench Reports: The true view is, I think, that a blow struck in anger, or which is likely or is intended to do corporal hurt, is an assault"—

—that is, boxing— but that a blow struck in sport, and not likely, nor intended to cause bodily harm, is not an assault, and that, an assault being a breach of the peace and unlawful, the consent of the person struck is immaterial. If this view is correct a blow struck in a prize-fight is clearly an assault; but playing with single-sticks or wrestling do not involve an assault; nor does boxing with gloves in the ordinary way, and not with the ferocity and severe punishment to the boxers deposed to in Reg.v.Orton".

Mr. Justice Stephens said, in the same case: In cases where life and limb are exposed to no serious danger"—

which is not boxing nowadays— in the common course of things, I think that consent is a defence to a charge of assault,even when considerable force is used, as, for instance"—

and he again deals with single-stick, sparring with gloves and so on. My noble and learned friend Lord Jauncey, in summarising his analysis of Coney, said that, it is authority for the proposition that the public interest limits the extent to which an individual may consent to infliction upon himself by another of bodily harm and that such public interest does not intervene in the case of sports where any infliction of injury is merely incidental to the purpose of the main activity

It was said in R. v. Donovan, As a general rule … it is an unlawful act to beat another person with such a degree of violence that the infliction of bodily harm is a probable consequence, and when such an act is proved, consent is immaterial".

There were, of course, exceptions to that general rule and boxing was then looked upon as one of them because it was thought that the parties were not subject to any serious danger. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, stressed, the arrangements that are made before a professional boxing match takes place, with surgeons, ambulances, and specialist medical assistance laid on, show that serious danger is expected throughout that contest. That data was not before the courts going back 50 or more years

If there is a strongly arguable case—and I submit there is—that boxing of the professional kind to which reference has been made is or may be unlawful, it would be utterly wrong to kill a Bill which is designed to investigate further that activity and, no doubt, to come up with proposals as to how to deal with it. In my respectful submission, it would be a reaction of a kind that would do this House no credit in its approach to how serious matters should be handled. For that reason, I respectfully suggest that we should not resist a Second Reading.

7.3 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, is one of which we should all take careful note. As I shall mention, it is an answer to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the exercise of free will is the only thing that matters. I hope that I am not being irrelevant when I say that the gladiators in ancient Rome exercised their free will when they butchered each other to make a Roman holiday. Prize fighters did that for money and they were stopped. Duelling was stopped. It was not done for money but for pride. However, it was the exercise of free will on both sides and it was stopped.

In your Lordships' House we nearly always give a Second Reading to a Bill. We refrain from voting against it even though many of us disagree with it. I hope that in the light of what has been said in this debate and in view of the usual practice in your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury will not prevent or attempt to prevent further discussion on this important matter by simply moving that the Bill should be read again in six months' time. In effect, that would kill the Bill for another Session. I implore him not to do it.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships for long. There is no need after what we have heard. I have broadly two reasons for supporting the Bill. The first I can put this way. All of us in the course of our lives, whether long like mine or shorter, have hoped that our society would become more civilised as time went on. Alas, however, violence has increased and become part of the way of life of so much of our community in recent years and we must be careful to try to prevent the attitude among people that violence is a legitimate part of life. We must try to dissuade them from it. Boxing seen on television gives people, especially the young, the impression that violence is acceptable in certain circumstances. That is my first reason for supporting the Bill, put as briefly as I can.

My second reason has been mentioned, the medical reason. There is now strong scientific evidence and medical proof that heavy blows to the human head—whether to a heavyweight boxer like Muhammad Ali whose head suffered through his contests, or a middleweight, or any boxer—can destroy some of the brain cells.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for the direction which his speech is taking. However, I wonder whether he has thought through to the logical conclusion. It is, for example, that we should ban the heading of balls at football matches because they undoubtedly damage the brain in some cases. Also what would he do about West Indian fast bowlers aiming the ball at heads of batsmen? Is that something of which the state should take account and declare it to be illegal? There are ramifications all round. I repeat my point that I have no objection to a proper investigation into all that, but not as an adjunct to the one-clause Bill before the House tonight.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I do not believe that this should be the opportunity for a second speech.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I have the deepest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Howell, whom I have known for many years in our membership of both Houses of Parliament. I do not believe that he would have said what he has just said if, on reflection, he had taken on board the words of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, when moving the Second Reading of the Bill. He pointed out that boxing, among all the sports that we have, is now the only one in which one person is there intentionally to hit another. Goodness knows, in rugger and in heading a football we do not intend to injure someone else. But it may happen. In hunting there are accidents, and many of us enjoy that sport enormously. But the accidents do not occur as a result of one person trying to hit another. Boxing is now unique in that respect.

Let me resume briefly my reminder to the House of the strong medical evidence. For some years the British Medical Association has been strongly against boxing. It is not only the brain cells that can be injured by blows to the head; the eyes, ears, mouth and teeth can be injured, and are. One of the problems in relation to injury to brain cells is that there is no recovery; the cells are not replaced. Those are my two main reasons in favour of the Bill.

We should be doing all we can to make our own society, and by example the society of other countries, more civilised, peaceful, kind and gentle. In that context, the display of force in professional boxing, especially on television, needs to be very carefully considered.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Meston

My Lords, I declare an interest as an appeal steward of the British Boxing Board of Control. It is a position for which I receive no financial reward. This is not a matter on which I understand any party to have particular stated policies. Views differ in every section of this House, as in society as a whole.

As noble Lords were reminded, this is the third time that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has brought his Bill before the House for a Second Reading. His two previous Bills were each refused a Second Reading after debates in December 1991 and earlier this year. The words of this Bill are exactly the same. There has been no attempt to adapt it to cover some of the drafting criticisms previously made. However, .those are matters of detail. I hope that the House will reject the Bill in principle, as it did twice before. I also hope that noble Lords will consider that enough is enough and will support the amendment of the noble Earl if he moves it.

I do not believe that the arguments for and against professional boxing have improved with age or will improve with repetition. I certainly do not wish to bore the House by repeating what I have said twice before.

My noble friend Lord Addington regrets that he cannot be here. In one or both of the earlier debates he made a comparison with other physical contact and combat sports which remain untouched by this Bill.

As the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, said, ultimately boxing remains a matter of choice for the boxers. Nobody can say that nowadays boxers do not make an informed choice as to whether to run the risks of their sport.

Earlier this year a distinguished former boxer, Bobby Neill, wrote: Boxing teaches respect for your opponent and fellow boxers, teaches discipline, is a character builder, teaches respect for yourself and your fellow man, through hard physical training and a properly controlled diet. It teaches you to overcome adversity as no other sport can

I beg to dispute that violence is encouraged by boxing, and I suggest that boxing, almost uniquely, channels violence and aggression.

The Bill seeks to create a criminal offence. The House should not lose sight of that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, mentioned the observation of noble and learned Lords in the Appellate Committee and the decision in the case of Brown. That raises a different question. There is a distinction between the legality of boxing as such, as discussed in Brown, and the creation of a specific criminal offence of promoting professional boxing, as this Bill seeks to do.

I suggest that strong public policy grounds are required for the criminalisation of what has been accepted as a lawful sport for very many years. Noble Lords should know that the British Boxing Board of Control remains vigilant. I suggest that it is one of the best boxing organisations in the world. As some noble Lords may also know, further safety standards were introduced this year. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned the matter of severe weight loss. Subject to correction, my understanding is that the British Boxing Board of Control is particularly aware of the problem of severe dehydration to effect rapid weight loss. I know that the board takes the matter very seriously.

There is no doubt that, even if this Bill became law, illegal boxing would continue underground. It would do so, however, without the controls and safeguards that currently exist to govern the weight of boxers, proper matchmaking and matters such as the number of rounds for different categories of bout.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. If that were to happen, the enormous sums that pass in relation to a professional boxing match would no longer be paid, would they?

Lord Meston

My Lords, I beg to differ with the noble Lord to some extent. It may be the case that enormous sums would not pass. However, with respect, it is naive to suggest that money would be eliminated as a factor. Frankly, the prime motive for continuing illegal boxing behind closed doors would be financial.

Boxing in those situations would also continue without the provision of medical supervision and the availability of medical help if required and without alert licensed referees. It would certainly continue without any rules to prevent commercial exploitation of those who should probably not be in a boxing ring at the time. One of the tasks of appeal stewards is to consider whether licences should be suspended or terminated to stop boxers going on when they begin to lose too many fights; or whether to suspend a referee who has perhaps not been quick enough to stop a bout when it should have been stopped. It is an inescapable fact that such illegal boxing would continue in that way, whether one likes it or not.

I suggest that the question is therefore whether Parliament wants a properly regulated and carefully controlled sport, as now, or whether there is to be the development of an unlawful and unregulated sport, which would undoubtedly be much more dangerous. I suggest that there is only one sensible answer. I therefore hope that the Bill will be rejected once again.

It may be tempting to follow the course suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, if it provides the opportunity for serious consideration of all the arguments and evidence, as the Law Commission suggested in its consultation paper No. 134. Other noble Lords may not be so tempted on the basis that the arguments and principles have been well rehearsed too many times to require further analysis in Committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that at first sight it is quite remarkable to have a Select Committee procedure on the back of what is, on the face of it, an abolitionist Bill.

19 p.m.

Vicount Waverley

My Lords, this has been an interesting Second Reading debate. I do not speak in favour or otherwise of the merits of the Bill but in support of my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman, who wants to see the Bill committed to a Select Committee.

Nobody can deny that boxing is both a major and controversial sport, accommodating participants ranging from children to professionals. There are many conflicting views both for and against, with a further body of opinion insisting on modification.

The amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, would, as we all know, effectively exclude further debate on this important subject in the House at this time. I do not believe that this country and indeed the sport as a whole would thank us for that. I am sure that the noble Earl would be the first to agree that there are sufficient unanswered questions on this important matter to support a case for an in-depth authoritative study. A Select Committee is the appropriate mechanism for that. I believe that it is in the best interests of the sport to put to rest once and for all the many questions that are emerging. Now is the opportunity. I strongly urge the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment and would encourage all noble Lords to support the proposal of my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman for an investigation.

Finally, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to tell the House his views on whether he would support committal of the Bill and if not, why not. Will he accept that the overwhelming sense of the House is towards committal?

7.20 p.m.

The Earl of Carnarvon

My Lords, I rise in the gap to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. I personally boxed in competitive boxing for 10 years of my life, during all my Army career and all the time that I was at both prep. school and public school. It may have done me some damage but I am not aware of it.

I very much hope that we can have a Select Committee on this very difficult subject, about which some people feel very strongly. I have not heard any argument in this House today which has gone against the suggestion that a Select Committee be set up to look into this particular Boxing Bill.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Lowry

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate and I promise to be short. The fact that I do not take sides may assist me to keep that promise.

I should like to support the proposal that the Bill obtain a Second Reading. It raises a very important question. It is not an easy question, as the words which have fallen from your Lordships clearly indicate. I appreciate the high motives of the noble Earl in taking his present course. I should never use of him the expression "an attempt to kill the Bill" with the pejorative implications which such a description of action would imply. But if this Bill is to be rejected, let it be after careful and conscientious deliberation. Let us not be afraid to hear and talk about the points of view on each side.

Thirty or 40 years ago it would never have occurred to me that professional boxing should be stopped. I confess that it is 40 years since I attended professional prize fighting. I went a few times to the King's Hall in Belfast when there was a title fight on and I have watched boxing on television. I have not had the personal experience of boxing that other noble Lords have mentioned. I had the gloves on only once at the age of seven. It was at a girls' school which took little boys. Another boy aged seven, who was not quite so little as I, brought to school two pairs of boxing gloves and we had a fight in the break. Sixty-nine years later I cannot remember which, if any, of our fellow pupils we were trying to impress, but after 10 minutes we called it an honourable draw.

One cannot help but realise that the pleasure and excitement of the crowd are at their greatest when the action is at its fiercest. That is something which makes one think. I sat in the case of R. v.Brown, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, addressed us so cogently and almost successfully. The papers portrayed the result as three rather old-fashioned old men from the Middle Temple outvoting two young enterprising and intellectual companions. Well, that is one point of view.

I am now, by statute, unfit to judge and possibly in fact as well. But the fact that I cannot take part any more allows me to feel a little freer to say something about that case. I approached it as one in which the real question was, if people consent to have actual bodily harm done to them by someone else, whether that is a defence for the person who is inflicting the actual bodily harm. Rightly or wrongly, I took the view that the answer was that consent was no defence. We all knew that consent was a defence to what is called common assault—a mere touching, etc. We knew that it was no defence to the infliction of grievous bodily harm—that is, really serious personal injury.

One comment that one might make about boxing—and it has to be weighed in the scales—is that there are times when the boxers are trying to inflict on each other not only actual bodily harm but really serious personal injury. I am not trying to moralise, but is the fact that that is possibly an unlawful activity not an additional reason why we should look at the whole thing rather carefully? Perhaps some regulatory legislation might be brought in as a result of all the deliberation. Perhaps one does not go the whole way. Perhaps the Bill should be thrown out. But, please, let it be discussed.

7.28 p.m.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I speak rather personally in this debate. When my late husband was a medical student at the London Hospital, there was great rivalry, which was part of the fun of being a student. There was a rugby club, a boxing club, and so on. Bart's might stage a fight, as would St. Thomas's. All that kind of activity was going on. He joined in very happily.

Once my husband became qualified and a consultant, not only at the London Hospital but at the postgraduate Hammersmith Hospital, he saw injured patients and said, "We must stop this." There is a lot of propaganda about famous boxers who fall into terrible crises. We had a practice in Shoreditch which took in much of the East End of London. The patients we saw were not prizewinners. They were young men with terrible injuries. They were not famous and the public did not know about them. We knew about them. They never worked again; their whole lives were wrecked.

We are often told that boxing is a very good way for black men to get into some kind of society. That has been said to me in New York and Washington. "Well," it is said, "they cannot do much else, so let them be boxers." We did not see famous boxers. I always thought, as did my late husband, that a kind of alibi was being used. Why should boxing be regarded as providing an opening for those young people? Such openings should exist in all walks of life. It is often said that all the best boxers are black because it is the only thing they can do. That makes me sad. It suggests that we are not providing sufficient opportunities for those people.

We saw patient after patient who was not and never would be famous, knocked out of the race before he had even started. Some people say that all sport is dangerous. That is true. I confess that I am in my 80th year and still love dangerous sports. I have only just given up rock climbing. When I was rock climbing and hanging from the end of a rope, the chap at the top did not cut the rope to make me fall. My fall would not be caused deliberately. That is the difference. Boxing is the deliberate causing of injury.

Accidents occur in driving and in many other sports throughout the world. But it is stupid to say that boxing is simply another sport and that accidents can happen anywhere. Boxing injuries are not accidents; they are caused deliberately. That is the difference, and that is why the sooner boxing is banned the better. That is why I shall be voting with my noble friend.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I particularly want to thank my noble friend for again bringing this subject before us and giving the House the opportunity to discuss a matter which is undoubtedly of public concern. We have been around this course before and none of the arguments, the facts and figures, that I have heard tonight have altered from six months ago when this proposition was rejected by both Houses of Parliament in the same week.

Before I begin I should make clear that, as this is a Private Member's Bill on an issue in which Labour has no official party position, I am speaking completely in a personal capacity. That is why I can vote. If I were speaking officially, I should have to abstain. In that context I should add that my party's shadow sports spokesman in the Commons today stated to me that he opposes this Bill.

I should add too, in a psychological context, that I have a constitutional aversion to bans of all kinds—the banning of boxing, fox hunting, fishing, smoking and alcohol. Down the path of personal pleasures lies an endless pursuit of people who wish to ban us from doing them. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, will know, smoking and alcohol cause far more deaths and injuries than boxing and some day we may hear from him the extent to which they should be made illegal.

My position may stem from the fact that I am not from the Cromwellian stable from which some others originate and my ancestors may well have been in Droghede when Cromwell arrived to ban them. If my noble friend or any other noble Lord wishes to introduce a Bill to ban bans, I can promise in advance that they will have my total support.

I shall not repeat all the familiar arguments for and against boxing. They were put well in April and have been put well tonight by noble Lords on all sides. My position is contained in detail in Hansard of 5th April. However, I should like to pick up -one or two points where the argument continues. In relation to deaths and injuries we heard discussion about other sports being more dangerous. That cannot be dismissed. My noble friend read out the death roll from boxing; but for motorcar and motorcycle racing and horse riding I could read out a much longer and equally distinguished list. Hill walking is of course the most dangerous sport of all.

My noble friend Lord Taylor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made a strong point, as did my noble friend Lady Jaeger, that the injuries that occur in other sports are not deliberately inflicted. That is an important point which I have always accepted. But it is not a decisive argument and is of little interest to the victims in those other sports.

In high risk sports deaths and injuries are inevitable; they are central to those sports, even if they are not the central purpose. Deaths and injuries will continue to occur in those sports at a higher level than in boxing while mountains, fast motors and horses retain their present characteristics. Accidents in those sports are as predictable and inevitable as they are in boxing.

Why do we not include martial arts? Boxing is not unique in having the infliction of injury as its main objective; martial arts do likewise. So why not ban them all? Why does not the school about which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, spoke ban rugby as well as boxing? More serious injuries occur in rugby than in boxing and I do not know where that slippery path ends.

The reason why the proponents of the Bill wish to ban boxing and not other sports is because they have a specific moral objection to it. They dislike sports of concentrated physical aggression and where physical damage is a major objective. The Bill therefore is a vehicle for a specific moral stance for which I have great respect but which I do not share. I particularly did not share it when my noble friend said that boxing was "reprehensible". I am very wary before referring to activities, that many of our citizens enjoy and choose, as "reprehensible".

The medical aspects of boxing and its better regulation to reduce the risks are important. Many anxieties expressed by noble Lords could be secured by better regulation. The sport need not be banned to secure that. The boxing authorities recently introduced 12 reforms to improve the sport and reduce the risks.. Undoubtedly more could be done. My noble friend Lord Howell mentioned some improvements and I have my own suggestions. A different Bill specifying such reforms or a Select Committee along those lines would certainly receive wider support and my sympathy.

Any approach must be realistic. Boxing is and always will be a hard and demanding physical sport. It will always involve some physical risk, as do those other even more dangerous sports to which I referred. But it is not just dangerous; it is also popular among many thousands who never suffer any injuries. It is regulated and open to tighter regulation which would not be the case if it were banned and driven underground. As anyone who has lived or worked in the socially deprived areas of this country will know—perhaps this House is full of them—it provides a sense of discipline and achievement. Above all—here I support totally what my noble friend Lord Howell said—it is voluntary. No one is compelled to box. No one is unaware of the risk.

There is massive publicity for injuries in boxing, probably more publicity than in any other sport. No one is deceived or intimidated into going into boxing. There are no innocent victims. It is done, as my noble friend said, with complete freedom of will and choice. To me, that is the heart of the issue. I am sorry that, in dealing with the legal aspects, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, did not deal with that central point.

This Bill seeks to abolish that individual free choice. Boxing is quite different from cock fighting and bear baiting, where the participants have no freedom of choice. It is quite different from illegal drug taking, which is not done under proper regulation and medical supervision. It is quite different, though much less interesting, than those border areas of human territory of a sadomasochistic nature, to which the noble and learned Lord referred, because, again, such activities are not carried out under proper legal and medical regulation; although I note with interest that the noble and learned judges are extending their interventions into every corner of our lives. I begin to understand what the Opposition Front Bench has been moaning about.

This is a puritanical measure. It picks out one sport, not the most dangerous, and seeks to eliminate individual freedom to choose to play it. As such, I oppose the Bill and will in my personal capacity vote accordingly. On the question of the Select Committee proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, which is a compromise, it is a question not easy to oppose in principle and I would not be unhappy with that. However, the Bill before us seems not best suited to that procedure. It contains no details. It is simply a one clause moral statement of disapproval of boxing. I agree with my noble friend that if you want an inquiry into boxing then please let us have one. I would support that and so should others. But a Select Committee is not the best way. I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. It is not the best way.

We are in an odd situation. We have a clear Bill before us, a one clause ban, which is suddenly converted into, and is defended as, an inquiry before a Select Committee. That is quite different from the original proposal and is not the best procedure for an inquiry. Furthermore, we have no guarantee that we shall get the Select Committee. Are noble Lords aware that while opposing the Bill before us they may vote for it to go to a Select Committee, but not get the committee but the Bill? I will vote against it. If it is passed, I would prefer it to proceed to a Select Committee. But best of all I would prefer to have a proper government-sponsored inquiry into boxing which I would totally support. I regret that that is not the proposal before us

7.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood)

My Lords, the Government share the concerns first articulated this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and then echoed by subsequent speakers, that the safety of boxers must be the prime consideration. But we do not believe that the professional sport should be banned and cannot support the Bill, whose effect, as it is drafted now, goes further than that. I should like to take this opportunity to explain our position. I should also make it clear that, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, someone like me whose family name is Vane must come from the 17th century parliamentary tradition.

As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has pointed out, the Bill has a long history which began when I was at school. It is the second time this year that we are debating the matter. Earlier in the year my noble friend Lady Trumpington spoke about boxing after the injuries sustained by Gerald McLellan, and today we are debating banning boxing not long after the tragic death of James Murray. While these are very unhappy events, the Government do not believe that they should be allowed to distort the overall picture of accidents and fatalities in boxing. There are deaths and injuries in other sports too. One only needs to look back at the second half of this year to find instances of this; for example, the racing driver Mika Hakkinen, seriously injured, and the Italian cyclist, Fabio Casartelli, who died in the Tour de France.

Since 1945 there have been 15 deaths in professional boxing. That must be compared to 72 deaths in motor sports and 26 in riding in just five years. We are not, here, dealing with a sport in which death occurs to an extent which is beyond what is considered acceptable in other sports

Equally the same is true so far as concerns injuries. For example, the Sports Council estimates that there are 1.5 million injury incidents in martial arts each year, 8.6 million in soccer, 1.6 million in rugby and 2.7 million in running. There are a negligible number in boxing, which has been identified by the Sports Council in its analysis of sports accidents as being in the least risky category of sports.

Boxing is an established and properly regulated sport in this country at both amateur and professional level in which all those who take part do so willingly, and it has a wide following among the general public. It is lawful, stretches back over hundreds of years and is a major part of this country's sporting heritage.

A number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Ackner and Lord Lowry, referred to the so-called "Operation Spanner" case. This is now being considered by the European Commission on Human Rights, so for that reason I shall not discuss it further other than to say that I think it better that I say nothing more about the interesting remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lowry, and to comment that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, displayed those skills in advocacy, which perhaps on his own admission owe something to schoolboy boxing, to present a legal case which while lucidly expressed and cogently argued is not one the Government would necessarily accept. I am sure he would agree that his argument is not correct. The wider case he so forcefully made may be the less strong.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I never put forward the thesis that there was no doubt that boxing was illegal. I said that there was a strongly arguable case that that might be the situation and that therefore that was another pointer towards the need for further discussion.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, if I have wrongly understood the case of the noble and learned Lord, I take this opportunity to apologise to him.

We believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, pointed out, that individuals should have the freedom voluntarily to participate in the sport of their choice so long as they are fully aware of the risk involved. What is paramount in the case of boxing is that the element of risk attached to it is minimised so that it is reduced to a generally acceptable level and that proper medical safeguards are always in place.

The British Boxing Board of Control, which is the official body controlling the professional sport, insists on medical safeguards which are among the most rigorous in the world and which are constantly under review. After the death of Bradley Stone last year, the board launched a review of its safety procedures. An independent Medical Review Committee was set up and last month it announced, as has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, a 12-point plan to improve safety further.

Perhaps I may list some of the proposed changes, some of which have already been implemented, so that your Lordships will see that the British Boxing Board of Control takes its responsibilities very seriously indeed. Perhaps the most significant change is the improved brain scanning which will be done annually for all boxers. That will help detect and prevent any abnormality before it is too late. Weigh-in times are to be brought forward by at least 24 hours. That will help to prevent the chances of boxers dehydrating to make the required weight before a contest and then not rehydrating properly before they get into the ring. After the bout medical checks will also be tightened. Ringside equipment is to be reviewed and staff will have better access to the boxers. Boxers will not be allowed to spar or to take part in contests for 45 days after a stopped fight or a knock-out.

To ban boxing would drive the sport underground and remove those who choose, and who will in the future choose, to box from the very safeguards which now protect them. Furthermore, even if boxing were banned in this country, boxers could still compete overseas where the medical safeguards may not be so stringent, as is the case in those Scandinavian countries where professional boxing is outlawed.

Even now, while boxing is legal, I am told—and this was corroborated earlier this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury—that illegal bouts, often involving criminal behaviour, take place relatively often. During these fights, men are often bare knuckled or tied together at the waist, and even sometimes fight blindfolded. If that happens now when boxing is legal, I am very sceptical of the suggestion that boxing would not be driven underground if it were to be banned.

The purpose of boxing is not the knock-out, but to score points by breaking through an opponent's defence. It is true that of recent years this sometimes seems to have been forgotten in the razzmatazz surrounding certain film fights where large sums of money have been involved. This so-called "showboating" and "talking up" the fight, risks mutating the sport into mere showbusiness. That is why the British Boxing Board of Control has fined and warned some of those who have engaged in that kind of promotion because it tends to present the activity as mere prize fighting and not the sport of boxing.

If boxing exists, why should those who want to try to earn their living from it not be allowed to do soif that is their wish? After all, those who are good at driving cars fast can become motor racing drivers or those who are good at riding horses well become jockeys or showjumpers or circus artists. Such a ban is exactly what this Bill entails. Further, it will seriously wound the amateur game where youth clubs, who it is generally recognised on all sides fulfil a very valuable role in society and who currently charge an entry fee to help them defray the necessary costs of staging contests, will no longer be able to do so.

In conclusion, our overriding concern is safety and we do not believe—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell—that properly regulated professional boxing between volunteers engaged in a lawful sport should be outlawed, for the reasons I have already explained. So we cannot support the Bill.

I have indicated the Government's view of the policy which the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, seeks to implement. Your Lordships have also heard the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, that the Bill should be committed to a Select Committee to permit a thorough consideration of all the medical and legal evidence relating to the issue of boxing. A number of noble and learned Lords supported that proposal. I do not believe that it is appropriate or necessary to name them individually. When all is said and done, this must be a matter for the House.

It is the responsibility of the Liaison Committee in your Lordships' House to review the Select Committee work of the House to consider requests for ad hoc committees and to report to the House with recommendations. Perhaps I may respectfully suggest that if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading this evening, the Liaison Committee should be invited to consider whether a Select Committee on the Bill could perform a useful function. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal has indicated that he will be happy to raise the matter with the Liaison Committee at its next meeting should the Bill be read a second time this evening.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, the subject has been adequately discussed this evening, and I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have participated in the debate. The matter has been discussed with some seriousness. I wish to make two points. One was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and others, about the drafting of the Bill. That was done upstairs on my behalf. I did not fill in the kind of detail that others have sought.

Tonight we are not really discussing—and I refer to the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman—banning professional boxing. Having heard the diversity of views expressed; being conscious of public concern over the matter; and being aware of the legal complications that have been mentioned in the discussion by several noble and learned Lords, we are discussing whether it is right that the House of Lords should remit this matter to the Liaison Committee to consider the appointment of a special committee to look at the issue. That is the issue for which noble Lords will vote. The alternative is that it is rejected out of hand.

Perhaps I may assure noble Lords who are inclined to take that view, that I shall return to this subject time and time again. I abhor violence. I shall pursue that principle as long as I am in this House. That is not the point I am discussing tonight; I am discussing the right of this House to discharge a responsibility to look at this issue, as noble Lords normally do, with calm judgment, hearing evidence, and making up its mind. I hope that noble Lords will accept that that is the issue on which they now have to vote while technically they are voting for my Bill. The issue is that the House of Lords will consider this matter in a Select Committee.

7.58 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, we have had a fascinating and interesting debate on this issue tonight. In my judgment it has been the finest debate we have had, including the debate in 1991. The arguments have been incredibly powerful. I have listened extremely carefully to all of them, both for and against. They have also been most persuasive.

I feel very strongly indeed about this matter, as do many hundreds of thousands of people in this country, not only the followers of boxing, but followers of all sports. I entirely agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said. In my opinion he is completely correct. I entirely agree with his suggestion of an independent inquiry into the sport. At the end of the day, we should not be legislating on such matters. We should leave that to the adequate bodies which have governed these sports for many years, and which continue to improve the lot of all those who participate in them. Noble Lords will understand when I say that regretfully I have to test the opinion of the House on this matter.

7.59 p.m.

On Question, Whether the amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided:Contents,39; Not-Contents, 38.

Division No. 1
Alexander of Tunis, E. Howell, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Inchyra,L.
Annaly, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Leigh, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Burton, L. Lyell, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mallalieu, B.
Chesham, L. Meston, L.
Clark of Kempston, L Monson, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L Mountevans, L.
Colwyn,L. Mountgarret, V.
Oxfuird, V. [Teller.]
Dean of Harptree, L. Perry of Southwark, B.
Denham, L. Platt of Writtle.B.
Donoughue, L. Rennell, L.
Falkland, V. Seccombe, B.
Grey.E Shrewsbury, E. [Teller.]
Hardwicke, E. Slim,V.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Hemphill, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Ackner.L. Kilbracken, L.
Airedale, L. [Teller.] Kinloss, Ly.
Attlee, E Lawrence, L.
Brightman, L. Lowry, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Mar and Kellie, E
Carnarvon, E. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Carnock,L. Nicol, B.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Renton, L.
Craigavon, V. Richard, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Ezra,L. Shaughnessy, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Strafford, E
Fitt,L. Taylor of Gryfe,L.
Gainsborough, E. Templeman, L.
Geraint,L. Tordoff, L.
Gladwin of Clee.L. Warnock,B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Waverley, V.
Jeger, B. [Teller.] Weatherill,L.
Jenkins of Putney, L Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly

House adjourned at eight minutes past eight o' clock