Ceramic and Brick Industries: 15th June 2016

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) on securing this excellent debate and everybody who has contributed to it? It is indeed a fascinating subject. Such is my interest in all the sectors in my brief—especially ceramics, because of the breadth and depth of the sector—I am getting to the stage now where I could bore for Britain on the different technologies and techniques and how exciting it is. Yes, it relies on many traditional methods. I am helpfully reminded that brick making is some 5,000 years old, but it pretty much has not changed over those years.

I always have to pay tribute to my excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), who, within his constituency has Morgan Advanced Ceramics—actually, this is a serious point. I quickly looked at its website, and when we see the astonishing high value products it makes, it is almost difficult to believe that they all fall within the wonderful broad category of ceramics, which, of course, includes clay pipes.

As I said, brick has been used by people for building for at least 5,000 years for good reason: it is a durable and it is energy efficient. It is to be commended and, if I may say, it should be used at every opportunity. The sector is very diverse, including electronics, aerospace, automotive and healthcare.

After a prolonged and painful restructuring in recent decades, some parts of the brick and ceramic sector have seen a revival in past years. Strong demand from house builders has meant that previously mothballed brick factories have reopened and substantial investment has been made in others, such as the Ibstock Brick Ltd facilities at Chesterton and Ibstock in Leicestershire. Unfortunately there is nobody here from Leicestershire, but that is an outstanding company. In ceramics there has been new investment in both technology and factories, with distinguished names such as Waterford, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Wade and Steelite leading the way.

In response to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), I want to put the record straight. I do eat when I can—I enjoy eating, in fact. However, I think her point was in relation to the fact that in BIS, apparently, we do not use crockery that has been made in this country.

Robert Flello
Shameful!

Anna Soubry
It is absolutely shameful—I could not agree more. When we last debated this issue, I have to confess that I did not know Steelite, which is a disgraceful admission from the Minister responsible for ceramics. By a happy chance, that very weekend I happened to be staying somewhere in Scotland—I will not name it—where they used Steelite. It is an outstanding ceramic because it is incredibly durable. It has many other qualities, too—it can be very fashionable and traditional—and I could go on. It has outstanding British quality and it has stamped on its back proudly that it is all made in Britain. I know that the industry has been keen to overcome some of the difficulties it has had. Frankly, ​we know that some companies have imported products and then, because they will slip them and perhaps finish them off, they then put “made in England” on them. Anyway, Steelite is made here in Britain and it is brilliant.

The business environment has been tough, and it still is tough for many parts of the sector, especially those businesses that are caught up in the supply chains for sectors such as steel. We all know the difficulties they have been suffering. However, we are getting the fundamentals of the economy right. By way of example, we are cutting corporation tax to 18% by 2020, which is important to support the sector and indeed all manufacturing. We are cutting red tape and investing £6.9 billion. Again, all of that is important, as is our work creating apprenticeships so that we keep our skills base up.

In relation to Stoke-on-Trent in particular, the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire local enterprise partnership has achieved many things. For example, there was £159,000 for Keeling and Walker, Fairey Technical got £159,000, Hygan Products got £30,000 and Siak Transfers got another £10,000 to help them with new jobs and new investment, looking to the future. The Ceramic Valley enterprise zone along the A500 corridor was announced in the autumn statement to help the United Kingdom to compete with the growing technical ceramics sectors in the United States, Germany and Italy. The Government’s city deal with the LEP includes a flagship proposal for the UK’s first at-scale, low-carbon heat network system, which will support the region’s world famous advanced manufacturing and applied materials sectors, including ceramics.

I turn to the sometimes controversial—understandably so—EU emissions trading scheme and reform. We are a strong supporter of the EU ETS as a cornerstone of EU climate and energy policy. It can help industry decarbonise in a cost-effective way in the transition to the low-carbon economy we all want, but the United Kingdom Government believe that improvements to the EU ETS in phase 4 can help it function more effectively and target carbon leakage support at those sectors at greatest risk. What we do not want is for us to be exporting jobs and importing carbon, so we have to get that absolutely right.

We favour a tiered approach that would focus a limited supply of free allocation on those sectors that need it most. Our recent joint non-paper with France sets out a number of potential approaches to tiering. It is important to note that, at this stage, we do not favour any one particular approach. We acknowledge that parts of the ceramics industry are at risk of carbon leakage and we are engaging proactively with the ceramics industry to discuss its concerns. It is always a pleasure for me to meet with it.

We are keen to see more simplified procedures and a potential increase in scope for the small emitter opt-out and to ensure that innovation funding is available for industry. All of those measures can help installations in the ceramics sector. The really important point, which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, who so ably represents her constituency, is that, like all sectors, this sector asks for nothing more than that level playing field. She is right that, as other hon. Members mentioned, it is only right and fair that, ​as a Government, we do or do not do stuff to ensure a level playing field. That is a proper and right ask to make.

Turning quickly to EII compensation and what we call the 2050 road maps, the industrial energy costs in this country are higher than in other European countries. We know that we face a genuine and serious challenge in our country, but in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), who made a very good contribution, eligible ceramics companies can apply for compensation for the indirect costs of the renewables obligation and the small-scale feed-in tariffs scheme. We have been working closely with the British Ceramic Confederation and ceramics companies to help them to apply for that. We have worked closely with the sector to develop a 2050 road map to help it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase its energy efficiency while remaining competitive. We all agree that we now need to see some real action to ensure that our energy costs are cheaper, in particular for the benefit of our manufacturing sector.

I know that MES for China is controversial and I am aware of the vote. The Government of course continue to listen, but we should not get overly hung up on market economy status. Russia has it and the Commission is still able to act to put on tariffs, for example, and so on. Of course, the Government continue to listen.

There were some excellent contributions from all hon. Members. My hon. Friends the Members for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) and for North Warwickshire mentioned Wienerberger, an excellent brick company. It does not ​just make traditional bricks, as the hon. Member for Motherwell—I have the wrong constituency again. I apologise.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
Rutherglen and Hamilton West.

Anna Soubry
I thank my PPS for that help. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) also made the point that it is not just traditional bricks that are proving so popular. A modern approach to bricks, based on traditional methods, means that bricks are now being seen as a beautiful design and feature in themselves in any work that is undertaken.

Because I am going to run out of time, let me say that I am happy to look at procurement. Perhaps we could do some work in persuading local authorities to do more in the procurement of British bricks.