Ceramic and Brick Industries

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:13 pm on 15th June 2016.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 5:13 pm, 15th June 2016

I congratulate everyone on their contributions to the debate, in particular Wendy Morton—I was going to call her the hon. Member for brick, because she was such an advocate for her brick makers, but I realised others might claim the title. However, she rightly celebrated the industry in her constituency, and pointed out her concerns about the uncertainties caused by some of the issues mentioned, which I will return to in my remarks.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth, or the hon. Member for ceramic tableware, as we might call her. She said that the industry is treated as a poor relation, and referred to the industry’s EARTH campaign, as well as market economy status, which is a thread running through the debate.

I congratulate Craig Tracey, and for Bedworth, on his contribution—the hon. Member for tile and brick perhaps. He spoke about the potential negative interest of the Government proposal on the emissions trading scheme. I also congratulate Mary Robinson, who spoke about bricks, pipes and pavers—so she, too, introduced a new product into our debate.

The debate was very informative, as they always are in Westminster Hall. We all learn a lot from hon. Members and their experiences in their own constituencies. Some of the debates are among the best seminars that we can get anywhere.

As hon. Members have said, the industry is important, and I want to praise it for taking the initiative with its EARTH campaign, which has been mentioned. The campaign raises the key issues that the Government need to address in order to secure the future of the industry. The industry employs many thousands of people, and there are 480 ceramic and brick manufacturing businesses in Great Britain, although that number has fallen from 640 in 2009. They are a key part of a modern UK economy.

The highly regarded new extension of Tate Modern is an example of a resurgence in the use of brick in construction and British architecture. The high-profile use of brick in an iconic building, combined with the strong growth figures forecast for the housing industry, which we have heard about, mean that there is a glowing future for the brick industry in the UK, which is renowned globally for its excellent design and architecture expertise and the innovative materials that make that possible.

Recently, the energy-intensive industries have made common requests to the Government, many of which have been mentioned. I will reiterate briefly that the cost of compliance under the renewables obligation compensation package must be looked at, and a level playing field is needed across Europe. We welcome the consultation that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is conducting, but action is required.

Carbon emissions can be massively reduced by undertaking research and development into energy saving and efficiencies, new innovations in fuel and energy efficiency, heat recovery, and furnace design. As hon. Members have said, we also need to be protected from cheaper Chinese products, otherwise we have the dumping of goods being produced for less than the cost of production, as we have seen in the steel industry. That is one of the key demands of the EARTH campaign.

The housing industry needs to be primed to create homes for millions of UK citizens awaiting decent housing, which will help to create demand in many UK materials products, including ceramics, bricks, steel and glass. The UK is pioneering new approaches in the brick and ceramics industry, with research in areas such as kiln firing and energy efficiency. I pay tribute to the work of the industry and to ceramics research centred in Stoke-on-Trent. Research and development in the brick and ceramics industry needs to be systematically spread across the whole of the materials industry.

We have not heard mention of this so far today, but a proposal is with the Government for the creation of a materials catapult, which could bring about the upscaling and commercialisation of relentless, continuous innovation in the materials sector, taking new science from the discovery stage to the practical stage, ready to be picked up by business. However, the brick and ceramic industries, in common with the rest of the UK materials sector, do not benefit from the support of an innovation catapult.

In developing the UK catapults, Professor Hermann Hauser outlined the foreign criteria for a new catapult to flourish: a large global market to exploit; a UK global lead in research capability; and the necessary absorptive capacity to exploit commercially in the UK. The UK materials sector clearly meets those guidelines, so I am interested to hear from the Minister what the latest thinking is on the establishment of a catapult in this field, and whether that could bring the UK into line with other advanced nations, including our competitors in the European Union, which I know the Minister is a strong supporter of, as I am.