HL Deb 25 October 1995 vol 566 cc1111-2

3 16 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of recent tragic events in the boxing ring, they will consider appointing a Royal Commission to examine and report on boxing.

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

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government wish to express their deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of James Murray, who recently died so tragically. However, we have no plans to appoint a Royal Commission to examine boxing.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, while I appreciate the sentiments of the Minister, I recall one or two tragic incidents which have prompted this Question. Michael Watson is paralysed and in a wheelchair; Gerald McClellan is permanently paralysed; Bradley Stone died 18 months ago in the ring and James Murray died three weeks ago in the ring. How many cases of death and how many cases of brain damage have we to witness before the Government consider an independent inquiry into this matter?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, boxing is an established and lawful sport and the Government believe that the appropriate course is to ensure that safety is paramount and pre-eminently considered at all times. As the noble Lord may know, the British Boxing Board of Control announced a few minutes ago the provisional conclusions of its medical revision committee which the Boxing Board of Control proposes should be introduced as soon as possible to improve safety in the sport.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that violence has increasingly become part of the way of life of too many people in our country, and that boxing encourages that attitude? Would it not be better if we were to stop boxing just as duelling was stopped some years ago?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing that comparison to my attention but I do not think that it is exactly comparable. In any event, one of the tenets which I believe is accepted both by the proponents and the opponents of boxing is that it imposes a form of discipline. In a violent world that in its own way is an important safeguard.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister know how many people have been killed and seriously injured in the Isle of Man TT races and the Grand National? Why does no one ever call for those sports to be stopped?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is quite correct in that boxing is not the only sport which is considered dangerous and in which injuries occur. Indeed, in 1991 the Great Britain Sports Council conducted an analysis of sports accidents based on general household surveys and concluded that boxing was in the least risky of the categories that it identified.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, this is not an appropriate place to discuss the nature of boxing or some of the other sports that have been mentioned, but will the Minister consider, if the Government will not set up a Royal Commission, setting up a Select Committee of your Lordships' House to look into this matter and report on it?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, that is an idea that we have not considered. We have no plans to consider it now. Such issues are also matters for your Lordships.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in comparison with other sports, boxing is the only sport in which an individual enters into a ring to inflict damage on his opponent? Would not those two individuals in the ring be arrested if they did the same thing outside the ring?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, it is the nature of the so-called sportsman's defence that, in a whole variety of circumstances, activities which might lead to criminal prosecutions outside a sporting occasion are defences in the event of some accident or injury occurring.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, is right to say that the position of boxing is anomalous. However, it is not unique in as much as the same applies to martial arts.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there will be widespread sympathy for the approach of my noble friend because of the fact that one of the prime objectives of boxing is to render damage to the opponent? However, in the light of what has been mentioned in relation to other sports and the fact that, for instance, motor sports and mountaineering result in 10 times as many deaths as boxing, and rugby and horse riding many more, does he agree that he would have support in taking the view that any attempt to ban a sport which is entered into voluntarily and willingly by the participant needs very careful thought?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, is right to set the matter in context.