Manning signs up as race and sex counsellor

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Some people might think you need counselling after listening to him. But yesterday it was revealed that Bernard Manning, self-styled king of the offensive joke, has registered as a counsellor specialising in racial awareness and sexual matters.

The British Association for Counselling announced that it would be tightening up its screening procedure after Mr Manning was able to join after filling in an application form. There are about 40,000 counsellors in Britain but there is no central register. The BAC is the largest of counselling organisations with 13,000 members.

Bernard Manning is unlikely to be the first person to turn to if you have sensitive problems. He was criticised by the Prime Minister last year after he was secretly filmed telling racist jokes at a police charity dinner. He also had to promise to tone down his act after there was an attempt to stop the renewal of the entertainments licence at his Embassy Club in Manchester.

To highlight the lack of regulation for counsellors, the BBC programme Watchdog asked Mr Manning to attempt to join the organisation. He listed his occupation as performer and performance counsellor and for specialities he put down sexual matters and racial awareness. He also claimed to hold an imaginary diploma in counselling and sent off the pounds 50 joining fee. A few days later he was welcomed into the organisation, became entitled to vote at general meetings and could be listed in its directories.

Central regulation of counsellors has been urged for some time. The BAC is hoping to launch a United Kingdom register later this year.

Dr Raj Persaud, a consultant psychiatrist, warned that regulation was urgently required. "There are two main things that can go wrong. First, because many counsellors aren't properly trained they could miss serious medical psychiatric conditions which don't receive proper treatment," he said. "The other thing that can go wrong is that there could be nothing seriously wrong with the clients they see and they may be taking money off them for problems they don't exist."

Tim Bond, the BAC's chairman, said since Mr Manning's application it had "accelerated the process of change. From now on members' training and qualifications will be subjected to a thorough check. We do not claim that membership of BAC is a qualification. We have a system of accreditation by which some members choose to gain extra status but ordinary members of BAC are forbidden from using membership as a qualification to practise ..."