HC Deb 07 July 1997 vol 297 cc629-32 4.27 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964 to provide for the regulation of the hairdressing industry; the training and mandatory registration of hairdressers; a complaints and compensation scheme for the protection of customers; the development and improvement of professional standards in hairdressing; and for related purposes. I introduce this Bill with particular pleasure because it is unfinished business. It was due to have been introduced on 25 March, when the then Prime Minister, panicked by the fact that he was about to be defeated on my Bill, suddenly announced the dissolution of the House, that all the legislation in progress would be scrapped, and that my Bill would not be heard, to avoid defeat. He was duly punished by the country, which is anxious for my Bill.

This is also unfinished business because it completes the intention of the Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964, which provided for a framework of registration and set up the Hairdressing Council, of which I am a member. The council was created to supervise courses and examinations, to investigate hairdressing and to discipline hairdressers.

That Act did not take the necessary next step to make it all work by making registration compulsory. As a result, we have approximately 110,000 hairdressers in this country, but just 13,000 of them are registered. The industry has a turnover of £2.5 billion a year, but it is largely unregulated. Consumers believe it to be regulated, however, because a survey conducted by the Consumers Association in 1993 found that most people thought that their hairdresser was registered, insured for liability and accountable. Many hairdressers are none of those things.

My Bill is a short back and sides measure. It aims to achieve three principles, the first of which is registration. That basic principle applies everywhere in hairdressing in Europe apart from Greece—I do not go there often for my haircuts—and Ireland. An anomaly exists whereby those who fail to qualify in France or Germany can come here and set themselves up in Grimsby as Anatole of Paris. The best qualified hairdresser in this country, however, is not allowed to set up in Paris as, romantically, Fred de Grimsby, and attract business. Our qualifications are not recognised there. Our hairdressers must be registered to bring them into line with Europe.

Secondly, the Bill would require hairdressers to receive training, and that existing training should be upgraded. There are some excellent courses that lead to good qualifications, for example, national vocational qualifications, but there is no requirement on a hairdresser to have such training before setting up a business. The requirement to register would provide the structure to deliver that proper training.

The United Kingdom has some of the best hairdressers in the world. According to this morning's papers, we even sent hairdressers to America to show our art. However, we also have some of the worst hairdressers in the world, back-street hairdressers who are allowed to dress hair without any regulation or control.

Thirdly, the Bill would protect the consumer, because this is an industry in which, should things go wrong, the consequences are often severe for the consumer. It is an industry which works with dangerous chemicals, dangerous processes and dangerous equipment. If those are used by unqualified, untrained hands, one can end up with all kinds of horror stories. The Guardian reported in March what happened to Lizzy Akerman: 'Afterwards my head came up in blisters which turned to revolting scabs.' When she went back they were unapologetic. 'I said, 'Look what's happened to my head!' and he said 'Oh yeah, that happens to me all the time—horrible isn't it?' The Hairdressing Council also recounts complaints that have come before it. For example, an elderly widow was traumatised by bad hairdressing. After a visit to a salon, her hair began to come out in clumps. She was so distressed that she could not go out for a fortnight until her daughter visited her, called the doctor, and bought her wig to enable her to go out in the world again. Another lady was left in tears because her hair had turned green and she felt unable to go to her daughter's wedding the next day. A 17-year-old who wanted highlights ended up with blisters and burns to her ears and scalp.

Those horror stories are repeated all over the country. The Hairdressing Council receives more than 3,000 complaints a year, but it cannot act if the hairdressers are not registered. When there is an accident, people can take the hairdresser to court. I have great respect for the law and some of my best friends are lawyers, but they charge rather more than a hairdresser. The process of taking someone to court on a consumer matter of damage inflicted by hairdressing is uncertain, expensive and inefficient. Many people do not bother.

If we had a method of registration, there would be a framework of control and discipline to stop bad practice. It would include a requirement to insure and a requirement on the industry to set up a compensation fund to compensate the consumer when things have gone wrong. That could be paid quickly without resort to law and would allow the industry to regulate itself, as it wants to do.

Everyone I have spoken to in hairdressing about the Bill is in favour of its principle because they know that cowboy, inefficient, untrained hairdressers reflect badly on the industry. They prevent people from using hairdressers with trust, based on a proper relationship.

There is no other way to improve the industry than through registration and self-regulation, but whenever we put that proposal to the previous Government, they simply repeated, "caveat emptor". I am not sure whether they knew what it meant, because the Conservative party is no longer classically educated. They said that the market will regulate these things, but it does not. How can the buyer beware or rely on market regulation when they do not know how bad the hairdresser is, after which their scalp comes up in blisters, their hair turns green or begins to fall out? That is no solution to the problems of hairdressing. It is just nonsense.

We need registration to upgrade skills, to insist on proper training, to protect the consumer. The upgrading of skills and the protection of the consumer will, I know, appeal to the Labour Government who now hold power. Indeed, I am happy to offer my Bill in its draft state to them as a Government measure to deal with the problems in the industry. It may not be the best-written Bill, because my skills as a legislator are about the same as my skills as a hairdresser—pretty inadequate—but I hope that the Government, who have expressed support for these principles in the past in meetings between shadow Ministers and the Hairdressing Council, will act on the principles contained in the Bill. I hope that this measure will show them the way.

4.35 pm
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

It is with great regret that I have to oppose the Bill, because the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) introduced it with considerable style, as one would expect, and one recognises his integrity and belief in the measure.

I have to oppose the Bill because, for 18 years, the Conservative Government recognised the danger of over-regulation, particularly the effect that it has on small firms and jobs. The Conservative Government set up a deregulation task force. We had a Minister with responsibility for deregulation, and the then Deputy Prime Minister himself was the supremo responsible. The Labour Government have no ministerial responsibility to prevent over-regulation. The hon. Gentleman has already started on the slippery path of more and more rules and regulations, which Conservative Members have always opposed.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has thought of the consequence of registering 110,000 hairdressers. First, not hundreds but thousands of inspectors would be needed to enforce the rules and regulations; so many would be needed because they would need time for their hair to grow before they could go back to the hairdresser to enforce the rules and regulations that the hon. Gentleman proposes. The cost of hairdressing would go up because regulatory arrangements always put up the cost of a product, so the cost of going to the hairdresser would be much more expensive. In fact, it would be so costly that there would be queues of people needing a hairdresser because of the number of hairdressers who would go out of business. As regards bad hairdressers, they simply lose custom and ultimately go out of business.

The Bill seeks to regulate hairdressers. Where will it stop? There is no limit to the number of people in business whom we could regulate, and have officials enforce those regulations. There would be people snooping behind bay trees, looking into hairdressers. The whole thing would get out of control. I just wonder how many hon. Members have had the problem of blisters on their scalp or their hair turning green. I do not know anybody whose hair has turned green after visiting the hairdresser, or whose hair has fallen out as a result.

This is a totally unthought-out Bill. It is ridiculous in its proposal. Its consequences are expensive and there is no merit in starting to pass more rules and regulations—the Government have not done so, but their Back Benchers want to.

I oppose the Bill because it is the start of the slippery slope, where rules and regulations will be imposed on our way of life. I am sure that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby has better things to do than regulate 110,000 hairdressers.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Austin Mitchell, Mrs. Jackie Ballard, Mrs. Ann Cryer, Barbara Follett, Mrs. Teresa Gorman, Miss Anne McIntosh, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Dr. Jenny Tonge and Mrs. Ann Winterton.