It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I thank Wendy Morton for securing such an important debate. I agree wholeheartedly with all her comments, with the exception that I think the priority should always be tableware.
I am the chair of the new all-party group on ceramics, and am proud to represent the Potteries—the historic centre of our country’s ceramics industry—so it will come as no surprise that I consider the sector to be of great importance. Across Stoke-on-Trent, more than 7,000 people are still directly employed in ceramics—more than in any other industry. With the ceramic valley enterprise zone, the future of the industry is clear; there is huge opportunity for development and huge potential. We need to ensure the level playing field that the hon. Lady spoke about so articulately.
I was saddened in our last debate to hear that the Minister so rarely finds the time to eat a proper meal from our excellent Stoke-on-Trent tableware, or even from the less-than-excellent Chinese tableware utilised by her Department, but that lack of familiarity with the craftsmanship of Dudson, Churchill or Steelite need not concern her in today’s debate. There is so much more to the ceramics industry than just tableware, important though that is. It is those other applications that I wish to focus on today.
In my constituency, we are proud to be home to Johnson Tiles, the UK’s leading tile manufacturer and pioneers in the field of ceramic design. Like the brick factories in the constituency of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, it is a major employer and a big contributor to our national economy. Bricks and tiles are not just important to the livelihoods of our constituents, however; they are key strategic industries in their own right, providing the raw materials that our country needs to build and to grow. The Government have repeatedly stated their commitment to a major programme of house building, which I very much support. We cannot build new homes without the raw materials for construction, and the Government’s ambitions, if fulfilled, could be an incredible opportunity for our brick and tile industries.