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House of Commons Hansard
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Ceramics (Country of Origin Marking)
04 September 2018
Volume 646

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

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the indication of country of origin for ceramic products; and for connected purposes.

I must begin by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a proud member of the GMB trade union and, as its manufacturing lead in Parliament, it is my privilege to work with it on issues such as the one we are discussing today. I also have the honour of being chair of the all-party group on ceramics. However, my biggest privilege is to represent the Potteries—the historic birthplace of Britain’s ceramics industry.

Our great city of Stoke-on-Trent was built on the clay beneath us, which generations of Stokies, my constituents, shaped into a world-conquering industry. Today, the great historic ceramic brands of Wedgwood, Minton and Royal Doulton have been superseded by a new generation of top-class manufacturers, ranging from huge potbanks to master potters. Whether we are talking about the high-quality catering staples of Dudson, Churchill and Steelite, the retail tableware from Royal Stafford and Portmeirion, the whisky bottles and gluggle jugs from Wade Ceramics, the beautiful, bespoke works of Emma Bailey, Jon French and Anita Harris, the toby jugs sold in this place from Bairstow pottery, the wonderful Moorland mugs, or the traditional Moorcroft pottery and hand-finished Burleigh ware, our ‘Made in England’ back stamp is the hallmark of top-quality ceramics. It is recognised in markets across the world; from North America to South Korea, British ceramics are in high demand, and with good reason. So the question I ask the House today is whether it will support this key industry and help us to celebrate the best of British manufacturing as we leave the European Union, because the British ceramics industry deserves no less.

Ceramics are not just our heritage; this is a living, breathing industry that employs more than 8,000 people in north Staffordshire alone—across the country more than 22,000 people work in the ceramics sector. Its economic contribution is comparable to that of the UK fishing industry, generating nearly £3 billion for our economy and more than £500 million in exports. Yet all too often it seems that the significance of our sector is ignored. While the challenges facing the fishing industry, for example, have become a focal point for discussions and debate about post-Brexit trade and legislation, the needs of industries such as ceramics—and broader British manufacturing, for that matter—have been strangely absent from the negotiating table.

As we prepare for a post-Brexit world, it is my hope that this Bill will give us the opportunity to highlight the concerns of this vital industry and the chance to make a start on introducing commitments and protections within UK legislation that would allow the industry to compete on a level playing field. The success of our ceramics industry is built on our reputation—it is a reputation for quality that has been cultivated not over decades, but over centuries. That is why the Bill I am proposing here today is so important. If the “Made in England” back stamp is to be a true guarantee of craftsmanship, consumers must have faith that the products on our shelves and those we export are truly what their label claims they are. All too often the tableware sold in the UK offers no indication of where it was made—this includes tableware in our own House of Commons souvenir shop. More often than not we are talking about cheaper—although we would not know it from the price—lower-quality, foreign-made products. If time allowed, I would happily rant about the ludicrous situation we see, where mugs on sale in this great building, including those that celebrate our own portcullis, have not been made in the UK, but I fear I will lose my audience—or never get served again in any of the shops. So to be generous to those who do not know their Churchill from their Dudson, we need to assist them. If there is no country-of-origin back stamp, it is difficult for people to know what they are getting. For those of us who like to buy British to support local jobs and local businesses, this lack of clear labelling is problematic.

It is not just the lack of a back stamp that is the problem; indeed, the very lack of labelling can often tell a person everything that they need to know. A far greater problem is what is known in the industry as bogus back stamping, which is when a product that is produced overseas but decorated, finished or packaged in the UK is given a “Made in England” back stamp. In other instances, products have been sent out with disingenuous branding that simply alludes to England in a way that implies that the items were made here even though they were not. I will celebrate every job associated with British ceramics, but there is clearly a difference between a product manufactured in the UK and one finished here. A plate that was made in Thailand or Indonesia can come to be marketed here as a British-made product. That is dishonest at best.

The rules on this should be clear. European regulation 2025/73 states that it is the blank—that is, the first firing of the ceramic—that determines the nature of the ware. That is one piece of EU regulation that we do need to adopt, because bogus back stamping is not fair and can have serious ramifications for British industry. First, there is the economic threat to British ceramic companies of their being undercut by cheaper, mass-produced foreign wares that are falsely sold as British. Higher quality inevitably comes at the price of higher production costs. It is not fair that businesses that take quality seriously can be undercut by inferior products sold by those who seek to capitalise on the British industry’s reputation for quality—a reputation that affords British businesses the opportunity to add the “Made in England” financial premium to their products.

That brings me to the second consequence of bogus back stamping: the reputational damage to our own industry. When people buy British, they rightly expect the best. We in north Staffordshire are not called residents of the Potteries for nothing. Our city has honed its craft over centuries, and that expertise can be seen and felt in every plate and cup that emerges from our kilns. We use those cups and plates in the Members’ Tea Room. When somebody seeks out that back stamp and makes a purchase with quality in mind, only to end up with an inferior product, it reflects on the whole industry. Our master potters rightly take pride in their craftsmanship and our businesses rise and fall on their reputations. When shoddy, inauthentic products are allowed to be misleadingly labelled, those reputations can be tarnished and businesses can suffer in the long term.

Finally, there are the matters of product safety and consumer information—issues on which the GMB, and previously the Unity trade union, have long campaigned. Put simply, mandatory country-of-origin markings improve the traceability of products, making it easier for people to know not just where a product is made, but how. Whether it is the workforce conditions or the contents of the materials used, there are a whole host of reasons why consumers may want to make a conscious and informed decision about what they buy. We are offered extensive information on the origin of the food we buy; many of us also want to know about the plates that we eat it off.

The Government have often spoken about their commitment to supporting British manufacturers, but their actions on the issue have occasionally fallen well short of that commitment. In 2016, 60% of the tableware in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was made in China. I think we can do better than that.

This is not about protectionism; it is about transparency and providing a level playing field for British manufacturers. The Bill is strongly supported throughout the sector. It is an opportunity for us to step up and make “Buy British” more than just a slogan, to answer the concerns of a vital sector of Britain’s manufacturing industry and to ensure that, in a post-Brexit world, our national legislative framework contains the protections that we need to secure a bright and healthy future for British ceramics. I therefore ask the House to back the stamp and support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Ruth Smeeth, Gareth Snell, Caroline Flint, Jeremy Lefroy, Chris Elmore, James Cleverly, Angela Smith, Wes Streeting, Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Giles Watling, Sir Graham Brady and Tom Tugendhat present the Bill.

Ruth Smeeth accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed (Bill 259).