Hairdressing

– in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 7th January 2015.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Wallace.)

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales) 5:02 pm, 7th January 2015

I am very pleased to have secured this debate and to have the opportunity to explain why we need to extend the current system of state registration of hairdressers, which is voluntary, to make it compulsory. Nowadays, people living in our sophisticated and complex modern-day society assume that the goods and services they buy, particularly on the high street, are in fact regulated. Most of us make the assumption when we go to the hairdressers that we are being treated by people who are suitably qualified, and much of the time we are.

I was quite shocked, therefore, to find out that in the UK a person does not need any qualifications at all to practise as a hairdresser. In other words, the industry is unregulated. Of course, the majority of hairdressers have appropriate qualifications, work to a high standard and take great care of their customers. However, currently there is nothing to protect the consumer from the unscrupulous or the incompetent, and that is what worries me.

I believe that as a society we have a duty to protect people from the unscrupulous as far as we can, so I want to ensure that a service as commonplace as hairdressing is properly regulated so that we and our families, our young people and our children are properly protected. That becomes even more relevant when we consider the wide range of different types of treatment now available. Hairdressing can involve using sharp implements and styling instruments, as well as a range of powerful chemicals that can inflict third-degree burns. That is frightening and it is not acceptable that we do not require any statutory registration of the people using those substances and implements on our heads, our hair, our skin and close to our eyes, our ears, our face and our brains.

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. Before we use certain colouring on our hair, we should have a skin test and wait a couple of days to see if there is any allergic reaction, but we are impatient and tend to want everything instantly. Scrupulously careful hairdressers tell me that they sometimes lose customers because they insist on a skin test, but the customer is too impatient to wait for the result and goes to a salon which does not require the test. When things go wrong, it can be very distressing for the person concerned and ultimately, if medical treatment is needed, it is likely to be the NHS—that is, the taxpayer—who picks up the bill.

I pay tribute to the Hair Council, formerly the Hairdressing Council, for the work that it has done to highlight the issue of compulsory state registration of hairdressers and barbers. I know, for example, that just in this place there is much greater awareness of the issue among MPs than there was just a few years ago. I pay tribute to David Morris, who introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on the subject. I thank the training, hairdressing and barbering industries for taking a lead and demonstrating how seriously they take the professionalism of their industry. I have had valuable conversations with the hairdressers in my constituency, who tell me that they are concerned to maintain high standards and to ensure that new recruits to the industry also perform to high standards.

Hairdressing and barbering are industries that we in the UK are very proud of. They are sectors of key importance to the economy, contributing some £2.6 billion to the UK economy and employing nearly 250,000 people across 55,000 businesses. Even in the current tough economic climate, we can walk down any high street or through any town centre and find several hairdressing salons or barbershops.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

I, too, have written to all the hairdressers in my constituency, seeking their views about regulation. My hon. Friend is right. They want to be seen as responsible and do not want to cause anybody damage when they visit the salon. Does my hon. Friend agree that partly because of the recession and partly because of the increase in the number of people who are self-employed, an increasing number of people are providing hairdressing services in people’s homes, over which there are no checks whatever? That causes me concern.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

Indeed. My hon. Friend is right. For a hairdresser working as a sole operator in a home where there is nobody to point out to them that they have done something wrongly, it is even more important that they are properly qualified and that the person employing them has some validation of that. We would check whether a plumber was properly registered; that is far more important in respect of our own body.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

The protection of hairdressers is also important, to ensure that they are protected if anything goes wrong.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

Indeed. Insurance companies will have vital role to play. If there is compulsory state registration, insurance companies will expect professionals to comply with the law and to mention any changes in circumstance. It will be in hairdressers’ best interest to be registered and to be properly insured.

In our town centres, it is often the hairdressing shops that pull people in, which can be welcome. With competition from internet shopping and out-of-town shopping, anything that increases footfall in town centres can be useful to the neighbouring shops, not just the hairdressers and barbers.

Habia, the Government-approved standards-setting body for the industry, estimates that hairdressing and barbering account for nearly 1% of the entire UK economy. They also make up a huge percentage of new start-ups. Habia estimates that 41% of hairdressers are self-employed, and 93.5% work in a workplace employing between one and 10 employees.

I must emphasise that the vast majority of these businesses are respected. The hairdressers are highly competent and have worked long and hard to train to a proficient and qualified standard. However, as always, some do not fall into this category and damage this good reputation. To prevent this, the Government of the day introduced the Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964, which created the Hairdressing Council and provided its current constitution. Under the Act, a person can apply to be state registered in the same way as doctors, nurses and dentists. The only difference is that it is completely voluntary to belong to the UK register of qualified hairdressers—a status that can be achieved either through qualification or six years practising as a hairdresser. Ideally, every hairdresser and barber should be state registered, which would eliminate those who practise with no qualifications or experience whatsoever. The problem with the Act is that it does not have any power to safeguard the consumer with a framework of minimum qualification standards and compulsory state regulation of the industry—it is entirely voluntary. The campaign by the Hair Council, which I fully support, would allow for compulsory registration of all hairdressers and barbers.

Let us be honest: we have moved on a long way since 1964. If we want to be reminded of what teenage boys looked like in 1964, we just have to go on to the internet and look for the sleeve of the Beatles’ LP, “A Hard Day’s Night”, and that will give us a good impression. Most of us will remember that hairdressers were about the short back and sides for boys, with schools complaining if hair touched the collar. We knew that our mothers or grandmothers went for a perm now and again. Of course, nowadays there is a whole range of treatments and people have such a variety of different opportunities for things to do with their hair. Dangerous chemicals are used routinely. Without proper training and qualifications, there is no guarantee for customers that they might not be burnt, injured or permanently physically disfigured by the inappropriate use of these chemicals. As my hon. Friend Alison Seabeck said, many people are turning to mobile hairdressers, and it is even more important that they should be properly state registered and therefore regulated.

We need to ensure quality and safety standards within the hairdressing and barbering industry. Many hairdressers who are not state registered practise great hairdressing and run successful salons, but registration is about guaranteeing a minimum level of competence for the consumer and deterring those who are not fit to practise from setting up. As politicians, we have a duty of care to members of the public. When things do go wrong and there are accidents resulting from the misuse of chemicals or dyes, it can be very distressing for the persons concerned. Ultimately, if medical treatment is needed, it is likely that the NHS—namely, the taxpayer—will pick up the bill.

Similar questions and concerns were raised in the wake of the Poly Implant Prothèse implants problem. Professor Sir Bruce Keogh headed up a review of the regulation of cosmetic interventions—in particular, non-surgical procedures such as dermal fillers, beauty treatments, collagen and Botox injections, chemical peels, and laser hair removal. In his report published in April 2013, he notes:

“Dermal fillers are a particular cause for concern as anyone can set themselves up as a practitioner, with no requirement for knowledge, training or previous experience.”

The Government have supported the recommendations of the report, one of which states:

“All non-surgical procedures must be performed under the responsibility of a clinical professional who has gained the accredited qualification”.

Most notably, it recommends that all practitioners should be registered, and states:

“Entry to the register should be subject to…achievement of accredited qualification”.

Some of these procedures could easily be undertaken in a spa or a salon, so let us make sure that we get regulation all round.

The introduction of compulsory registration for hairdressers and barbers would bring hairdressing and barbering into line with other industries in the UK. It would be similar, for example, to the regulation of taxi drivers or food hygiene: one would not expect to go into a restaurant that had not been properly regulated.

Registration of hairdressers and barbers is required elsewhere. In the USA, for example, practitioners are required to have a licence to practise and to provide evidence of training and certification in each business area they intend to provide at their salon. There are on-site inspections and trade tests, and a consumer complaints and procedures route. If they move state, they have to satisfy the regulations of the state to which they move. Australia has a similar set-up, with practitioners required to be registered. The UK remains one of the few countries in Europe that does not require the state registration of hairdressers or their equivalents.

The Hair Council has already made significant progress not only in raising the issue within the industry and with decision makers, but in consulting and drawing up details of how the system might work in practice. The questions that many people will rightly ask are about its cost, how it will be policed and how it will work in practice. There will clearly have to be proper consultation within the industry and a transition phase, but I will return to that later.

Once the system is up and running, it should be relatively easy to police. There will be a list of registered hairdressers. Just as now, people will be able to find their nearest state-registered hairdresser on the Hair Council website. The public and trading standards officers alike will be able to consult the list. Consumers will be able to check whether their hairdresser is state registered, just as they can for their plumber. Trading standards offices will be able to use it as a tool for checking what is happening in the local neighbourhood. When officers make inspections of local salons, they can also check the credentials of the people who are working there.

Ultimately, insurance companies are likely to provide the greatest motivation for hairdressers and salon owners to comply, and to make sure that all their staff are state-registered hairdressers. We all know that we have to comply with the terms and conditions of insurance policies for them to be valid, and that we have to report any change in circumstances. No hairdresser or salon owner will want to pay for insurance only to find that it is invalid. The requirement by insurance companies for hairdressers to comply with the law—they will provide cover for hairdressers serving the public only if they are state registered—will therefore provide a strong motivation for them to register and to employ only those who are state registered.

The Hair Council has estimated that the system can be run at no extra cost above the current fee of £40 per annum per individual hairdresser. In fact, it sees that figure as a maximum. No-one likes to pay any fee, but in the great scheme of things, it is not an unreasonable amount and could be recouped from customers relatively quickly. The cost per customer over a year would be negligible, and customers would find it a very small price to pay for knowing that the hairdressers and barbers that they and their family use are registered and therefore regulated.

On implementation, the structures and the mechanisms are already in place, and the Hair Council has done a lot of preparatory work. We already have the legislation. A registration scheme is in place—its framework has existed since 1964—and it is administered by the Hair Council. The Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964 created the then Hairdressing Council and provided its constitution. Under the Act, a person can apply to be state registered in the same way as doctors, nurses and dentists. We are now seeking to make state registration compulsory.

The Hair Council has done a lot of work and has come up with proposals. It suggests that, as the keeper of the register of hairdressers and barbers, its remit would be extended from the maintenance of a voluntary register to keeping a statutory register, with the ability to set and enforce penalties where necessary. The Hair Council is committed to consultation within the industry, and to be both consumer and industry-focused in its communications. It proposes that those already practising as a hairdresser or barber in the UK would be required to join the register by a certain date—perhaps up to two years after the change in the legislation. That would be followed by a period of strict scrutiny, using a team of inspectors recruited for the sole objective of visiting salons. Practising hairdressers or barbers—whether mobile operatives, salon-based or self-employed individuals—would need to register to be able to function correctly and legally.

Trainers would be expected to inform learners that once they had obtained a level 2 national vocational qualification, they would be required to register before they could practise lawfully. That would educate individuals intending to work in a self-employed capacity about the need to register. Compliance could be monitored by qualification-awarding organisations.

When I have consulted local salons, they have stressed the need for high-quality training, so I was pleased to see in December that my local further education college, coleg Sir Gâr, has signed up to registering all its lecturers, assessors and qualified learners with the Hair Council. It clearly makes sense that all those who are training and assessing the next generation of hairdressers should themselves be state-registered.

Qualified professional hairdressers and barbers are drivers of growth on our high streets. They support local employment, train apprentices, serve their communities and contribute significantly to the UK economy, and it is time for the industry to be put on a much firmer regulatory footing to reflect that. We have regulatory and consumer laws because they reflect good practice. The majority of responsible practitioners already come up to or surpass the necessary standards, but we need legislation to provide protection from the unscrupulous or incompetent. A change in the law would not only ensure consumer protection but enhance standards and provide professional recognition for the industry. I therefore ask the Minister to take the initiative and to take the necessary steps to ensure that we are all properly protected, by introducing the compulsory registration of hairdressers.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford 5:21 pm, 7th January 2015

It is a great pleasure to follow Nia Griffith, and I thank her for providing me with the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I join her in placing on record admiration for barbers and hairdressers—one needs only to look around the House to see what a challenge it can be. You, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, are at the top of the list. It is undoubtedly a challenge to get every individual’s hair correct. May I place on record my particular thanks to Sugaz barbers of Lime street, Bedford, for their tremendous dedication to making the Member of Parliament for Bedford look presentable in public these past four or five years?

Hairdressing is a tough profession, as every individual has their own needs and tastes. As the hon. Lady said, the skill sets in the industry and the services and products it provides have progressed dramatically over the past 20 or 30 years. I would also point out the size of the industry. As she said, it is not a small sector of our economy but a considerable one. It employs a large number of people, and there are a large number of businesses in it. It affects all of us—we all use the services of a hairdresser or barber on a regular basis, perhaps until we become follically challenged.

The hon. Lady did not mention another important aspect of the sector, which is that setting up a salon or becoming a barber or hairdresser is one of the most accessible ways for people to start out in their own profession or start up their own business. For a lot of people, formal education is not their direct interest, but making people feel better and bringing happiness to their lives is how hundreds of thousands of people contribute to our society. Hairdressing has historically been a relatively easy way for people to get involved in setting up a business. That is why I disagree with the hon. Lady’s approach to regulation, if I may say so, even though she outlined a solid case. Frankly, I do not want the state cutting my hair. More deeply than that, I believe that sufficient protections for the consumer are already in place. If I may, I will go through a number of them in turn.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Labour, Bridgend

The hon. Gentleman has graciously thanked his hairdresser, but may I say that on the whole, his hairdresser’s task is rather simple? The point is the greater complication, and the use of chemicals and other products, when a woman’s hair is styled. That is often a more technical and difficult task, and that is where regulation is required.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford

I hear what the hon. Lady says, and I will state why I think regulation is not the approach to take. If that does not satisfy her, especially on the issue of chemical use, perhaps she will make a further intervention or contribution.

My first point applies to almost all barbers and hairdressers, because they almost all go through formal training. Bedford college has an active range of courses for people who want to become hairdressers and barbers. They go through the training, learn about the use of chemicals, different styles, techniques and human interactions, and achieve a good qualification.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

If, as the hon. Gentleman says, the vast majority of hairdressers go through the process of getting a proper qualification, should we not give them credit for that, and ensure that someone who has not done so is not able to give the whole industry a bad name by doing something inappropriate or stupid? As he says, many hairdressers have done a lot of work and trained, and if they were asked to register because it was compulsory, I am sure the vast majority would be proud to do so.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford

There are a number of points in that. First, people who work for a qualification get that qualification and credit at the end of their training course, which is a sense of celebration and merit for them. Secondly, if they believe it is valuable to get that additional accreditation from the council, that is perfectly open to them. There is nothing barring someone from taking on that accreditation, but the hon. Lady proposes not to treat accreditation in that way but to make it a compulsory requirement, and that is where I differ from her approach. Qualifications provide people with that credit, and the sector currently works adequately at that level.

Another factor is word of mouth. If there is one part of our lives where word of mouth has a big influence on where we go, it must surely be in who cuts our hair. We listen to what people say, perhaps when we are younger, and then we stick with someone and they cut our hair for many years into the future. We get to know who we want from what other people say, and we tend to stick with what we know. In that type of structure, and given how demand in a market works, regulation seems to be more of an impediment and intrusion into people’s normal practice of finding the right barber or hairdresser than a help.

Supply and demand works. If someone is operating a salon and provides poor or risky service, they will go out of business because in most communities people know which barbers and hairdressers do not work effectively. As I said, there is already quite a lot of conversational management about the quality of service in that sector, and that has been supplemented by online sources. Nowadays people seeking a hairdresser can look at ratings and recommendations online, just as they can for other services. Finally, in the rare occurrences when a problem does occur, one can obviously seek redress directly from the salon for any impediment caused, and if a very severe issue has caused an injury, there is the opportunity for litigation. Plenty of measures are already in place that make regulation an unnecessary, perhaps even distracting, step.

The hon. Member for Llanelli said that regulation helps to stop the unscrupulous, but we had plenty of regulation in banking and that did not stop unscrupulous behaviour. She specifically mentioned taxi drivers. We have regulation in that sector, but in a number of activities there is still unscrupulous behaviour by taxi drivers. I do not see regulation, perhaps as the hon. Lady does, as providing a guarantee that something will be right. In fact, I believe that our understanding of how markets and people work, what we hear from our friends and others, and the service we directly receive, is a much better guide and form of consumer protection than blanket regulation.

I understand that the proposed measure is in the interests of the British Hair Council. I understand that it has about 6,000 registered members from the 250,000 people who could be registered, which is a relatively low proportion. Rather than compelling people to join, perhaps the council should ask itself some tough questions about why it has achieved such a low level of penetration. Why is its offer not attractive enough for people to join? It is not the job of government to give the council a leg up so that it can increase its membership—it should be doing that itself. I think the hon. Lady confirmed that the membership fee is £42, so the council, with its current 6,000 members, has an income of £250,000 a year. Were we to make membership compulsory, that income would go up to £10 million a year. I can therefore see a clear and direct financial interest for the council to be pushing this measure, through both the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend David Morris and today’s debate. I can see why the council is pushing very hard, but I am not hearing any compelling argument, related to either consumer satisfaction or industry improvement, about why we should take that step.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

The hon. Gentleman needs to take into consideration why one would register if it is not compulsory. There are lots of professional organisations to which people do not necessarily belong if they are not compulsory. When I was a modern languages teacher, I could have belonged to about three or four organisations, in addition to the trade union to which I belonged. If there is to be no regulation, how would the hon. Gentleman guarantee that somebody could not practise if they were not competent to do so? He talks about word of mouth; that might be all right for the established person, but it does not help the newly qualified person in setting up, which is one of the arguments he made. Why is it that he rejects any form of protection? Does he have another idea how that offer of a proper guarantee could be put in place, so that people could see a sticker in a window and know that the salon—or the individual, if it is someone visiting a house—is properly qualified? Is there another way to guarantee that?

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford

First, as a politician I do not think I should be guaranteeing the quality of service that someone receives in a hair salon. Secondly, I do not think that regulation is the same as a guarantee, and I have tried to make that point. Regulation is, as the hon. Lady rightly says, a sticker in the window, but there are plenty of examples of regulation not providing protection. It can sometimes be misguiding to say that people are protected when they are not. If we want protection, we might have to put in place compensation schemes and ask the taxpayer to fund situations where there have been negative consequences. The hon. Lady and I have a substantially differing approach to whether it is appropriate for politicians to guarantee, and to whether a guarantee means protection. As I tried to set out earlier, there are a number of layers of informal protection that guide our decision to get a haircut in salon A or salon B.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Hair Council’s proposal to have inspectors going around regulating. That would be really tough. The Care Quality Commission has to regulate, I think, 21,000 care homes, and we know that that does not necessarily provide a guarantee of service. There are even more hair salons, so unless there is a very cursory inspection—just popping in and popping out—that would be a substantial undertaking. I have some scepticism about whether the council is currently in a position to provide the level of insight the hon. Lady thinks it can in an industry that is so widely distributed and so small scale individually. The sector also has quite a high turnover—a number of salons will set up and then fail—so there will perhaps be even more than the headline number of salons that need to be regulated.

The hon. Lady set out a good case, but I disagree with her approach. She talked about the regulation of new industries—for example botox and so on. There is a question—perhaps the Minister will address it—of whether there should be a difference of approach when we look at new industries, such as those providing botox and cosmetic surgery, that do not have a track record of customer service and what people understand, as there is in industries, such as hairdressing, that have been established for generations. What about nail salons? If the Minister is minded to agree with the hon. Lady, does he think we should also regulate nail salons? If so, how many nail salons would we have to cover? If not, why would we cover one, but not the other?

The hon. Lady did not mention Europe, but given the title of the debate, I want to talk about pending European regulations relating to the hairdressing industry in the UK. When many of us on the Government Benches hear about European regulation—this is a poor joke—we are minded to pull our hair out. [Interruption.] I said it was a poor joke. [Hon. Members: “It was a very poor joke”.] It is late in the day, so I can get away with it.

There is, however, a much more important non-joke issue that was drawn to my attention by the National Hairdressers’ Federation, which is based in my constituency: the framework agreement proposed by the EU on occupational health and safety protection. As I understand it, the Commission is seeking to make the framework voluntary agreement into something that is legally binding in all member states and for all businesses in the industry. This raises several issues. First, I am not sure we want additional European regulation in a sector in the UK. Secondly, it would not apply to those who are self-employed; it would apply only to businesses and so create a two-tier level of occupational health and safety protection? Thirdly, the European trade federation has said it would have severely negative consequences for the sector.

I think that most people who run salons would say it is a tough, low-margin business where every cost matters. Do we really want to add an additional burden from the EU? I understand that 10 member states have already expressed their opposition to making the regulation legally binding. Will the Minister give us his views and tell us whether the UK has or will oppose making it legally binding rather than a matter of voluntary compliance? In most sectors, voluntary compliance works effectively.

The hon. Lady has made a strong case for an alternative point of view, but it is a case I disagree with, and I hope that the Minister will also disagree. However, I am grateful to both of them for the opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 5:37 pm, 7th January 2015

I will not be as bold as my hon. Friend Richard Fuller, but will steer clear of commenting on the quality of Members’ hairstyling; I think I will stay on safe ground.

I am sure the House will commend Nia Griffith for bringing this issue to its attention. She is right that it concerns a significant industry that affects almost all the population who use hairdressers or barbers. I am familiar with the Hair Council’s campaign—my predecessor met with Sally Styles, the chief executive officer, to discuss the issues—and I am aware of the recent debate on the subject in the Welsh Assembly. I am sure that the hon. Lady, in her constituency and shadow ministerial roles, will be familiar with that.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and the hon. Member for Llanelli said, the hairdressing and beauty industry is important to the UK economy. It contributes about £5 billion a year and employs about 250,000 people, and it is dominated by small and micro-business, with about 36,000 salons and 3,000 barbers. The majority of the work force is female and a high proportion of people are self-employed. My hon. Friend made the point about the low barriers to entry and its being a very competitive industry. That is an important tool in ensuring that an industry is well regulated, because anyone who delivers poor customer service will not be in business for long in a business that is competitive and where people share knowledge about the quality of service they receive.

Of course, nobody wants to see incompetent people in the profession, unsatisfactory conditions of hygiene or unsafe use of chemicals, all of which could impact on business owners, employees and members of the public. However, I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said and the thing that was missing from her speech—I will perhaps not be as generous as my hon. Friend, because I do not think she made a strong case—was what is the problem that we are trying to solve. Despite the size of the industry, how many people work in it and how many customers it has, I did not hear any analysis in her speech of what the problem was. She did not set out a compelling argument that large numbers of people are damaged by incompetent hairdressers, nor did she lay out a real problem that we are trying to solve. She laid out some theoretical risks, but they are not risks in practice. The Government’s position on health and safety regulation is that we should take a proportionate approach to risk and have regulation to deal with the amount of risk that exists, not overburden industry with unnecessary red tape.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

Does the Minister not accept, though, that rather than waiting for disasters and scandals to happen, it is better to see what we can do in advance? This is a widespread industry; lots of teenagers go and get their hair done and all the rest of it; and just as we have seen with tanning salons and tattoo parlours and so forth, people sometimes end up doing things that perhaps are inappropriate. Would it not be better to put in place a system that we can properly use, rather than just leaving things to drift?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

This comes back to one of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford. The hon. Lady’s argument might have some force if we were talking about a radical new industry, but we are talking about something that has been around for a long time and that has a clear track record showing that the problem that she suggests might occur is just not there. There is a genuine issue about how health and safety regulation can ensure that people can go to work and return home safely, not be killed, injured or damaged, and that members of the public can have the same protection. However, the Government’s general approach to regulation, particularly in the health and safety space, is to ensure that it focuses on where the risks are, not where they are not. As I have said, I did not hear in her speech a compelling case for the problem that she is trying to solve, and I do not think there is one, which is why I am not attracted to her solution.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Labour, Bridgend

My hon. Friend Nia Griffith made the point that the industry has moved on. We have moved on from the days of the short back and sides for men. Men now have more products used on their hair, as do women. Women are having hair extensions, which can result in hair being pulled out, and are having different chemicals used on their hair all the time. Hairdressing is a more technically-minded industry, rather than just a creative, simplistic industry, where people went for a perm or a set, or a short back and sides. It is that change in the nature of the industry that has led to calls for greater regulation.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

I will come to the point about regulating the use of chemicals in a minute, but as I have said, I do not think a compelling case for the problem has been set out.

We welcome what the Hair Council does in operating its voluntary registration scheme and we support initiatives to improve professional competence and standards. However, it is interesting that about 10% of hairdressers—that is my understanding; I do not necessarily agree with the exact statistic used by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford—are registered in the voluntary registration scheme that was implemented under the 1964 Act. Although the hon. Member for Llanelli said that the industry would support compulsory registration, the fact that only 10% of those in the industry are registered with the Hair Council suggests to me that they do not think there is a compelling argument that membership of that organisation is necessary to show their customers that they have the appropriate competence and skill. I think my hon. Friend is right: when people get a hairdresser they are confident in, they tend to stick with them for quite a long time. In my experience, good hairdressers have a good reputation and attract business in that way, and poor ones go out of business very quickly. I do not think the evidence suggests that the industry wants compulsory registration.

My hon. Friend is also right that the idea that a state registration scheme is a guarantee that everything will be fine is simply not right and is not shown by a range of other industries that have elements of regulation where that does not guarantee high quality. The thing that guarantees high quality is a competitive industry, low barriers to entry and a competitive marketplace. People who deliver poor customer service will not be around for very long. The evidence suggests that hairdressing is a generally well run sector of the economy and that the individuals and businesses supported by the trade bodies take sensible and proportionate measures effectively to manage the health and safety risks to their employees and customers.

The hon. Member for Llanelli said that there were not any measures or regulations to protect people in the industry at the moment. That is simply not true. Businesses operating in the hairdressing sector are covered by health and safety at work legislation and public health legislation, which are enforced by local authorities. They are covered by the provisions within the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which set out requirements about identifying hazards, the control of risks, the provision of training and information for staff and the need for advice. If chemicals are used, there are other regulations about controlling substances hazardous to health, the use of work equipment, manual handling, welfare and personal protective equipment. There are already quite a lot of regulations, with which a hairdresser or hairdressing salon has to comply to ensure that they do not present a risk to their customers or their members of staff.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

What research has the Minister done on the level of understanding of that legislation by hairdressers who go house to house to work?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

I have not done any specific work on that, but I do not think there is any evidence that there is a problem to be solved. Everyone who runs a business has to comply with health and safety legislation, but it is proportionate to the risk that they run. As I said, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford; I do not think the evidence suggests a risk in this industry to justify imposing a state registration scheme. That is the first point, and the second is that I do not think there is any evidence that if we did so, it would have any impact on making the industry better. It is generally a well run industry, with some high-quality individuals and businesses operating, which delivers good customer service.

As well as providing a legislative framework, the Health and Safety Executive produces guidance for small businesses. It has an example risk assessment for hairdressing salons, which is accessed between 200 and 400 times each month. It goes through the common hazards that might be present in a hairdressing salon, the harm that can be caused to staff and customers and it suggests the sorts of actions that salons and hairdressers can take to control the risks. The HSE works closely with the National Hairdressers Federation and the Hairdressing and Beauty Industry Authority, which is the Government-appointed sector skills body that controls the standards that form the basis of all qualifications, to raise awareness of health issues.

The hon. Lady mentioned the training aspects. In my constituency, the Forest of Dean campus of Gloucester college trains people in the hair and beauty industry. I have been along myself and I recall for a short period sitting in the chair as a model while various people practised on me. That demonstrated the high level of skill and training in the industry. The college works closely with local employers and the standards are very high.

A good example of joint working was the “Bad Hand Day” campaign, which the HSE ran in partnership with the industry to raise awareness of how to prevent hairdressers suffering dermatitis. The HSE has run a recent health and safety campaign, which targeted small businesses across a number of industries, including the beauty industry. The HSE produced “Health & Safety ABC: An easy guide to health and safety”, which was supported by both the Hairdressing and Beauty Industry Authority and the National Hairdressers Federation, while 92% of those surveyed in the beauty industry said that the health and safety of their customers was either a major or moderate concern. Most people in the industry recognise that there is something they need to be concerned about and take appropriate steps to deal with it.

There are some other regulations under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, and a new suite of health protection regulations came into effect in April 2010. This updated an “all hazards” approach, dealing with infections and contaminations. Public authorities are thus able to respond to modern-day health hazards. As well as local authorities, Public Health England, Public Health Wales and Health Protection Scotland have an interest in protecting the public from harm in the wider beauty industry.

Hairdressing products, which Mrs Moon mentioned, are also regulated—I am sorry to say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford—under the EU cosmetics directive, which offers a further layer of protection for customers in that any product used must be authorised, properly labelled and packaged.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and the hon. Member for Llanelli compared these proposals with measures taken to control other professions in the beauty industry, and the hon. Lady specifically mentioned other cosmetic treatments. There is a distinction between the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and wider public health legislation that regulates more invasive cosmetic treatments, such as the one that she mentioned. It is necessary to apply regulation that is proportionate to risk. The report to which she referred was clearly a response to some of the risks involved—I think I am right in saying that it was triggered partly by some of the fall-out from the issue of breast implants—and I do not think that it is relevant to the hairdressing industry.

Local authorities have powers, under various local Acts, to exercise a proper degree of control over standards of health and hygiene, which includes the cleanliness of premises, instruments and equipment, and they have powers to inspect. They take enforcement action, such as prosecuting poorly performing hairdressing salons, under the existing regulatory framework. Notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Lady, there is already a fairly comprehensive regulatory framework, which is designed to protect both staff and customers in hairdressing salons. If people comply with that legislation, the risks—which are relatively low—will be properly controlled, and I therefore see no case for extending it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford referred to moves on the European front, specifically the European framework agreement on the protection of occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector. The Government do not want that agreement to become a compulsory directive, and we have been working with like-minded states to prevent its implementation as such. We have no objection to a voluntary scheme, but, having analysed the agreement, we think that it duplicates a great deal of existing legislation. Moreover, an initial assessment suggests that it would impose an extra cost of £75 million on hairdressing businesses in the United Kingdom alone, without improving existing standards.

My hon. Friend mentioned nail salons. They are effectively covered by the same regulatory framework as hairdressers, so they must comply with the same health and safety regulations and public health legislation.

The hon. Member for Llanelli asked whether insurers could require hairdressers to be state-registered. Hairdressing businesses, like all other businesses, are already required to have employers’ liability insurance, and responsible businesses will have public liability insurance as well. Again, a regulatory framework already ensures that businesses providing these services are properly insured and therefore have the appropriate financial resources if they cause damage to their customers.

I do not think that the hon. Lady has set out a problem that needs to be solved. Hairdressing is an important industry that employs a great many people, is generally well run and delivers a good customer service, but it is already subject to a comprehensive range of regulatory laws contained in primary and secondary legislation that ensures that the risks must be dealt with properly.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

Throughout the Minister’s speech—it has been an interesting speech, in which he has expressed a different view from that of my hon. Friend Nia Griffith—he has referred to a lack of evidence. Given that 70% of hairdressers suffer from conditions such as dermatitis at some point in their lives, there is no doubt that customers will also be subject to problems caused by chemicals, latex gloves and other equipment. Customers may enter salons without fully understanding some of the risks, particularly if the staff are not particularly experienced. That is a significant issue. The Minister says that he is opposed to regulation, but would it not be worthwhile to carry out research among customers as well as hairdressers about the nature of the problems that people experience in salons, given that we clearly do not know enough about it?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

The alternative way of looking at that is that if there was a real problem, we would know about it. As constituency MPs, lots of issues come to our attention, and I am digging through my memory and in my nine years as a Member of Parliament I do not think I have ever had a single letter complaining about appalling treatment by a hairdressing salon in my constituency. In fact the opposite is the case; I have been fortunate enough to go to salons in my constituency to present awards to high performing and well-trained members of staff. If there was a real problem that affected significant numbers of people, I think we would know about it.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence)

We have some fantastic salons in Plymouth, all of which are performing incredibly well, but if we go on Google and type in “hairdressing” and “accidents”, enormous numbers of messages from solicitors’ firms pop up on our screen saying, “Let us help you with your claim against your hairdresser,” so something is clearly going on out there.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me for saying that just because there are lots of ambulance-chasing lawyers around trying to dream up and invent legal actions in a particular sector does not necessarily give a good indication of whether there is a problem to solve. We all know about such lawyers trying to dream up and invent legal actions; we have seen what happens with people trying to sue others for car accidents and inventing claims and driving up motor insurance premiums. In the hairdressing sector, therefore, given that we already have a range of health and safety legislation, I do not think further legislation would deliver much gain to employees or customers.

The issue the hon. Member for Llanelli was raising was professional standards and competence among hairdressers. The Government believe such matters are often best dealt with by businesses and their representative bodies. They know how to improve standards. That is very effective in a competitive business with low barriers to entry and no reason why people cannot switch very easily, so the Government are not in favour of mandatory state registration for hairdressers, and as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, we oppose the European social partner agreement becoming a compulsory directive.

The Health and Safety Executive will continue to work with all the various bodies representing the hairdressing industry, to maintain good standards of employee and customer health and safety. That is an appropriate way for what is a generally very well run and excellent industry to continue to be regulated.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.