Prime Ministers Questions Today
The Commons was in session today and the beginning of the debate was unity in praise of the response of the authorities and people of Spain regarding the Barcelona terror attack. The topic then turned to low paying wages particularly for McDonalds workers who staged their first protest for increased pay.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab)
'Every Member on both sides of the House should be concerned about the fact that inflation is once again running ahead of people’s pay. This week, workers at McDonald’s restaurants took strike action for the first time in this country. The boss of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, is reported to have earned £11.8 million last year, while some of his staff are paid as little as £4.75 per hour. Does the Prime Minister back the McDonald’s workers’ case for an end to zero-hours contracts and for decent pay?'
The Prime Minister Theresa May
'Obviously, what is taking place at McDonald’s is a matter for McDonald’s to deal with, but the questions—[Interruption.] Let us focus on the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, such as zero- hours contracts. In fact, the number of people on zero-hours contracts is very small— [Interruption]—as a proportion of the workforce, and there are people who genuinely say that it is of benefit to them to be on those contracts. However, for the 13 years the Labour party was in government, it did nothing about zero-hours contracts. It is this Conservative Government who have put the workers first and banned exclusive zero-hours contracts.'
'My question was about McDonald’s, whose chief executive is paid 1,300 times as much as his staff —and approximately 800,000 people in Britain are on zero-hours contracts.
When she became leader of her party, the Prime Minister pledged:
“I want to make shareholder votes on corporate pay not just advisory but binding.”
She put that in her manifesto but, like so much else in her manifesto, it has now been dumped—or archived, or however we want to describe it. Was the tough talk on corporate greed just for the election campaign or is it going to be put into law?
The Prime Minister
'I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he looks again at the action that, in government, Conservatives have taken on this issue: it is the Conservative Government who have recently published our proposals on corporate governance; it is Conservatives who gave shareholders the power to veto pay policies; it is Conservatives who forced companies to disclose board directors’ pay; and it is Conservatives who introduced tough transparency measures for the banks. That has been done not by a Labour Government; it is the Conservative party that has been putting workers first.'
'I note that the Prime Minister uses the word “advisory”, because page 18 of the dumped manifesto says:
“the next Conservative Government will legislate to make executive pay packages subject to strict annual votes by shareholders”.
She has gone back on her word.
To help people who are struggling to make ends meet, many politicians have become convinced that we need to cap energy prices. Even the Prime Minister was briefly converted to this policy. Last week, the profit margins of the big six energy companies hit their highest ever level. I wonder if I could now prevail on the Prime Minister to stick to her own manifesto pledges on this matter as well.'
The Prime Minister
'First, on the question of what we are doing on corporate governance, I actually did not use the word “advisory” in my answer, so may I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that in future he listens to my answer and does not just read out the statement before him?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about energy prices, because we are concerned about how that particular market is operating. We do expect the companies to treat customers fairly. That is why we have been looking at the action that can be taken, and it is why the Business Secretary has been doing exactly that: he wrote to Ofgem in June asking it to advise on what action it could take to safeguard customers. We are particularly concerned about the poorest customers who are kept on those tariffs that do not give them value for money. So I agree —and it is the Government who are doing something about it.
The next topic not surprisingly was in regards to wages paid to National Health Service employees and civil service workers.'
'The Prime Minister had no problems finding £1 billion to please the Democratic Unionist party— no problems whatsoever. NHS staff are 14% worse off than they were seven years ago. Is she really happy that NHS staff use food banks? Warm words do not pay food bills; pay rises will help to do that. She must end the public sector pay cap. The reality for working people is lower wages and less job security, with in-work poverty now at record levels. So will the Prime Minister clarify something she evaded during the election campaign? For those struggling to get by, whether employed, self-employed, permanent or temporary, can the Prime Minister categorically state today that they will not see rises in the basic rate of income tax, national insurance contributions or value added tax?'
The Prime Minister
'I can tell the right hon. Gentleman about the help we have been giving to those who are just about managing. We have taken 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether, and we have given a tax cut to more than 30 million people. We see record numbers of people in employment in this country. We have given the lowest earners the highest pay rise for 20 years by introducing the national living wage, but you only get that with a strong economy. We believe in sound money; he believes in higher debt. We believe in making our economy strong so that we can invest in our public services. Labour’s approach is reckless; ours is balanced. Our approach delivers a strong economy. That is more money for the public services and more jobs for people and families, but you only get a strong economy and a better future with the Conservatives. '
Remarks were made regarding job creation by Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con):
' As the Prime Minister has said, this Government have an outstanding record on job creation, with 3 million more people in work than there were seven years ago. It is perfectly true that wage rises have not been as high as we would have hoped, but I am proud that we gave that big boost to people at the low end with the rise in the national living wage. What the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) does not understand is that we can only have sustainable rises in pay with increases in productivity. My question to the Prime Minister is: will she instruct all her Ministers to bring forward proposals for productivity rises in time for the Chancellor to announce them in the Budget?'
The Prime Minister
'My right hon. Friend has absolutely put his finger on it: productivity is crucial to the strength of our economy and to improving it going forward. That is why we are introducing our modern industrial strategy, which will boost productivity, and why we are introducing really good-quality technical education for the first time in this country, to ensure that young people have the skills they need to take the higher-paid jobs created as a result of our industrial strategy.'