World-renowned ceramics manufacturers in the Midlands are suffering because of “bogus” branding by foreign manufacturers who pretend their wares are made in England, an MP has warned.
Tristram Hunt (Lab Stoke-on-Trent Central) urged ministers to crack down on misleading stamps on the back of products which suggested they were made in the Potteries, the area of north Staffordshire which has been a centre of ceramic production since the 17th century.
And he said support for the Midlands ceramics industry was particularly important with a royal baby expected later in the year – which will spark demand for commemorative mugs and plates.
Leading a Commons debate, he suggested funding should be allocated to trading standards officers specifically to deal with the problem.
He also called for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the issue.
And Mr Hunt urged ministers to ensure publicly-owned organisations were buying British-made ceramics.
He said: “There are plates in British embassies that are made in Thailand, and I have found in august institutions such as the Royal Society and the Imperial War Museum ceramics bedecked in the imagery of Britain but imported from abroad.”
There is no legal obligation for a ceramics manufacturer to state the country of origin on the product, but many do decide to put a mark on the back, a practice known as back-stamping.
Mr Hunt told ministers that some people were in the habit of turning over cups, saucers, plates or bowls before they used them, to check where the item had been made – making them members of the “turnover club”.
But he warned: “This is the problem we face: if a mug is made in Indonesia or Thailand, it can be transported into the UK and then have the word ‘England’ stamped on the bottom of it.
“Similarly, if a mug is made in Vietnam or Turkey and then finished in England, it can have ‘Made in England’ or ‘Made in Britain’ stamped on the bottom. That is what we call bogus back-stamping – the wrongful attribution of country of origin labelling – and it is harming jobs and investment in the UK, and especially in Stoke-on-Trent.
“More than that, morally, it is trading off the skills, sweat and application of generations of Stoke-on-Trent workers, who turned the ‘Made in Staffordshire’ brand into a world-class mark of excellence.”
Ceramics were a major part of Staffordshire’s economy, he said.
“The good news is that, after decades of decline, the pottery industry is roaring back to life.
“Investment is up; orders are coming in; the kilns are alight; jobs are coming back from the far east; and we are all looking forward – as is the entire nation – to a successful royal birth this summer, with attendant ceramic sales.
“The key to success is the quality of our artists and designers, the new plant and equipment, and the artisan skills of the work force, which means it is more important than ever that consumers are able clearly to know what they are buying.”
He was backed by MP Joan Walley (Lab Stoke-on-Trent North), who said: “When people buy ceramics they want to be in a position to make an informed choice.
“Therefore, labelling is really important... if we are not going to go down the route of further legislation, we need proper enforcement, particularly by trading standards officers.”
Business Minister Jo Swinson, said the Government backed “voluntary labelling” and not any compulsory scheme.
But she added: “Under current consumer protection regulations, it is a criminal offence to present false information and deliberately mislead consumers.
”The key test is whether the information encourages consumers to make a purchasing choice that they would otherwise not have made, and it includes misleading or false information on the origin of goods, however it is provided. That law exists.”
The Government would not tell trading standards officers to prioritise the issue, she said.
“Trading standards officers are, of course, answerable to their local authority and to local councillors.
“It is not the Government’s role to set local priorities for local enforcement activities, as they rightly depend on the issues arising in each area.”