British Glass Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:14 pm on 14th July 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Deputy National Campaign Co-ordinator, Shadow Minister without Portfolio (Cabinet Office) 4:14 pm, 14th July 2022

I am delighted to have secured this important debate on the British glass industry and I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and Mr Speaker for facilitating it. Glass is synonymous with St Helens, the town I represent. I am also very pleased to see my hon. Friend Liz Twist here—she may represent a constituency in the north-east, but she is a St Helens lass through and through, born and bred.

Glass made here in Britain is renowned across the globe and much of our daily lives depends on products that use it. From energy-efficient glazing in our windows to optical technologies that make internet communication and barcode scanning possible, this ever-evolving, innovating industry has—past and present—truly been a catalyst for progress in this country.

We should make no mistake: glass in Britain is giant. With 3.5 million tonnes of glass melted a year, the industry contributes some £1.3 billion to our economy annually. The industry employs 6,000 people directly and supports around 150,000 additional jobs—many located in my region of the north-west—across a diverse, dynamic supply chain. It remains a world leader, with UK manufacturers at the cutting edge of global efforts to develop sustainable glass for use in fields as wide as medicine, navigation, energy and power generation. I will use my remarks to celebrate some of the successes and to highlight, on the industry’s behalf, some of the urgent challenges that it faces.

The rise of glass as a powerhouse is a rich story and one that St Helens and the north of England is fiercely proud to be at the heart of. In 1773, the British Cast Plate Glass Company was established at Ravenhead. In 1826, the St Helens Crown Glass Company was founded by the Pilkington and Greenall families and, in 1845, its name was changed to Pilkington Brothers. Fondly known as Pilks, it remains a byword for excellence and innovation to this day. Indeed, my hon. Friend Ms Rimmer, on whose behalf I am also speaking, worked for many years at Pilks and feels, like so many families in our town, a very special affinity for and connection to it.

In this country, 2022 marks a milestone year for glass. For one, it is the UN International Year of Glass—a celebration of the essential role of glass in society around the world. Along with other hon. Members, Ministers and industry representatives, I was very proud to celebrate that occasion at a special reception here in Parliament at the end of March. I know that more is planned with the Government and with us in Parliament before the end of the year.

This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the revolutionary float glass process, pioneered by Sir Alastair Pilkington. The method quickly became the worldwide staple for manufacturing high-quality flat glass and remains one of the most important post-war innovations not just in Britain, but globally. If any Member would like to know more about glass, its history and its role in Britain, they can visit the excellent World of Glass in St Helens. We have plans, too, for the historic Cannington Shaw No.7 bottle shop—a place of history for our town and the whole country, which is right at the forefront of what we are doing on regeneration.

The glass industry in Britain today is using that spirit of innovation—that rich heritage and history—to adapt to and shape the modern world and to address the challenges that we face as a country and planet, many of which we heard about in the previous debate. Nowhere is that clearer than in the industry’s imperative to reach net zero carbon emissions. As a product, glass will be critical to the national effort on that, whether we are talking about double or triple glazing for household insulation; glass for use in our solar products; or continuous filament glass fibres used in wind turbine blades and in lightweighting vehicles.

As an industry, too, glass is leading the way, supported by the industry body British Glass, to which I pay tribute for its work, and underpinned by its own ambitious net zero strategy, which was released just a year ago. That work is building on the industry’s recent success in reducing combustion and process emissions and in improving efficiency. Over the past 40 years, the energy efficiency of glass furnaces has increased by 50% and firms have significantly invested in technology to increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. Recycling has also been key: each time 1 tonne of glass is recycled, about 580 kg of carbon dioxide is saved through the chain.