We have no plans to introduce a requirement for origin marking for ceramic products. However, ceramics companies continue to be free to use origin marking on a voluntary basis. Industry sectors with well-deserved reputations for design and quality, such as the UK ceramics industry, may find this a helpful promotional tool.
The Government’s failure to endorse mandatory origin marking and promote product safety is a matter of unfinished business for me, but there is still time for them to change their position. Will the Minister give assurances that when her officials meet manufacturers from Stoke-on-Trent, including Steelite International, in April, the Government will take as much account of what they and people such as Steven Moore from “Antiques Roadshow” have to say as they do of retailers and importers? I know I should not do this, Mr Speaker, but I have a mug here with me. When you turn it over and find that it says “Staffordshire, England”, you should have confidence that it comes from Staffordshire and not from China.
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and the efforts she has made on this and many other issues; she has been a stalwart campaigner on this issue, standing up for the ceramics industry. I will happily give her the assurance that when officials meet representatives of the industry, they will be listening very carefully to what they say. We have commissioned a study on this recently, and of course we will welcome the outcome of the European Commission study.
I share the Minister’s preference that this should be done on a voluntary basis, but does she not agree that in industries such as ceramics and bricks China enjoys unfair competition over companies such as York Handmade Brick Company, given the cheaper energy China produces?
As in many areas, we are competing in a global marketplace and that can be challenging, given the different circumstances in different countries. Of course that is why many of the measures we have set out in the Budget and elsewhere try to support companies in this country, particularly those with high energy usage. We will continue to do that because it is important for building the stronger economy we all want to see.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and praise her championing of the ceramics industry over so many years. Does the Minister agree that this issue is incredibly important because the ceramics industry is a considerable net exporter and therefore helps our balance of payments?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the success of this industry, and I mentioned in my earlier answer the quality of the products produced; this is a good success story for the export industry, which is why it is important that the ceramics industry continues to get support and we promote the quality of the products around the world.