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Hairdressers Registration (Amendment)

Volume 536: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2011

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964 to provide for the mandatory registration of hairdressers with the Hairdressing Council; to empower the Hairdressing Council to issue and charge for licences to hairdressers holding certain qualifications; to provide for the removal of names from the register by the Hairdressing Council on the recommendation of its investigating and disciplinary committees; to introduce a scale of fines payable by those without a licence charging for hairdressing services; and for connected purposes.

It is a privilege to address the House on what I believe is a very important measure. This proposed amendment to the Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964 is supported by the whole hairdressing industry and has attracted huge media interest. As hon. Members have probably seen in the newspapers—tabloid and broadsheet—the Bill has captured the imagination. Believe it or not, any one of us in the House, and indeed anyone outside it, could set up a hairdressing business tomorrow, practise as a hairdresser, and charge money for doing so.

As has been revealed in the newspapers, especially during recent weeks, hairdressers can use products that are very corrosive and dangerous and which, in some instances, can cause death. Unfortunately that has been happening for many years, and indeed it has happened during the past four weeks. Last night I met a lady to whom, thankfully, it had not happened, but she had had her hair straightened and dyed on the same day, which had caused burns to her scalp, made her hair snap off, and caused her face to puff up to twice its normal size. The poor girl, who was getting married in a week, had to get married a week later.

As I have said, the whole industry backs my Bill. There have been some quips in the media, and from certain Members of Parliament, but I want this to be an apolitical issue, and I have received much support from Members on both sides of the House. However, I ask every Member to bear in mind that the hairdressing industry in his or her constituency employs some 2,500 people who rely on that industry for their living. It puts £5 billion into the economy each year, and the amendment that I propose is supported by the Hair and Beauty Industry Authority, City and Guilds, the Freelance Hair and Beauty Federation, the Hairdressing and Beauty Suppliers Association, the Fellowship for British Hairdressing, and the National Hairdressers’ Federation, to name but a few.

Let me make clear that if there is a Division today, it will not be more of a division than a parting. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I had to get that one in before anyone else did.

Here are the facts. The 1964 Act came into being during the dying days of the Douglas-Home Government and has not been updated for nearly 50 years, although times have changed for the hairdressing industry. The Act set out a framework for education which governed my generation and which is now more or less standard—it is necessary to gain national vocational or, in my case, City and Guilds qualifications—but the Act has never been given teeth.

As I said, my former industry has a turnover of £5 billion. It has been established that 245,000 people—1% of the United Kingdom’s working population—work in the industry at NVQ level 3 or above. There are 34,000 salons out there, and 50% of women have their hair coloured, as well as a number of men. I am sure that some Members who are present would attest to that.

The Bill is vital because, first and foremost, it would remove from the industry unqualified individuals who harm people. When someone goes to a hairdresser, they want to know that the person working on their hair is not just qualified but experienced in using products which, as I said at the outset, can cause serious damage and often do. I was a hairdresser for 28 years before I entered the House. I was known in my time as Mr Fixit, and believe me, I encountered some horror stories. Women came into my salon with their hair dyed sky-blue pink—if, that is, it was still on their heads. One can imagine the psychological impact that that can have.

When I toured the hairdressing colleges in the north of England, one lady said to me “Everyone uses the NHS—people know where to go when something goes wrong medically—but those who have a psychological problem because their hair has turned a funny colour, has snapped off or has been burnt, and who have thus effectively been assaulted, do not know where to go.” There is no registration to enable disciplinary procedures to be carried out, and to point people in the direction of those who can ensure that their hair is sorted out. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers supports the Bill, not only because it will help to professionalise the industry but because it will cut out frivolous litigation.

It was good to see Members in all parts of the House attending the reception that I held here yesterday. It was a wholly apolitical occasion, and it was amazing to hear of the problems experienced by Members as well as staff. Some people who talked to me had been in the hairdressing industry themselves, and were able to tell good stories as well as bad.

We already have a charter in the form of the 1964 Act, but, although it contains some good legislation, it is defunct for today’s purposes. I want the Hairdressing Council to have mandatory powers to require state registration. I want the 6,500 hairdressers who have registered voluntarily, and who are very professional, to become 250,000. That would professionalise the industry. It took me five years to learn my craft, which is comparable to the time that it takes to qualify as a solicitor. I went on to study trichology for a further two years, which is comparable to the time taken to qualify as a vet or any other member of the medical profession. I believe that the hairdressing profession should be given more accolades and should be turned from an industry or vocation into a profession, because that is what it deserves. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.” ] I thank hon. Members for that.

Perhaps this will be my legacy to the profession that I joined, but let me stress that this is not about David Morris trying to introduce legislation for his old industry. I think it fair to say that I am the only hairdresser in the House—indeed, the only hairdresser ever to reach the House—so I can speak with authority about my former trade, or profession, but my point is this. It is now 2011; may we please give the Hairdressing Council full powers to keep a register of hairdressers who are professional, and to strike off those who are negligent?

I oppose the motion because I consider the status quo to be entirely appropriate. I will not detain the House for long, because my arguments are fairly straightforward.

First, I believe that the Bill would place an unnecessary burden on hairdressers, and I do not believe that there is any demand for it. I can honestly say that I have not received a single inquiry about this since my election, and that not once during the many years for which I campaigned to win a seat in Parliament did a single person raise the issue of hairdressing regulation. I think that the last thing British business needs at present is yet more rules and regulations. We do not want to criminalise hairdressers for simply not having a licence.

No doubt the proposed office for hairdressing regulation will soon become known as Ofcut. What we have not heard is what the cost of a licence from Ofcut would be, but I do know that it would mean either reduced profits for hairdressers or, more likely, increased costs for those who wished to use a hairdresser.

I see no reason why the present situation cannot continue. Most people are quite capable of asking around and finding out who is the best hairdresser in the locality. It is, of course, currently possible for hairdressers to register voluntarily with the Hairdressing Council, and to display their City and Guilds and NVQ certificates on the wall so that potential clients can see what level of expertise they possess. Of course, there have been tragic cases in which treatments and hairdressing processes have gone wrong, but I would venture to submit that even if all this new regulation were introduced, such mistakes would still be made. We have only to look around other regulated professions to see that that is the case. I was formerly in the legal profession. Solicitors are highly regulated but, as we all know, many people have suffered either financial or other loss as a result of difficulties with solicitors.

The mere fact that some form of regulation is introduced will not rid the country of the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) described. If problems do occur at the hairdresser’s, anyone has redress through the criminal justice system. I believe that what we need is self-regulation and not state regulation, which is why I oppose the motion.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).