Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Qustions 400 - 414)



  400.  I was distinguishing it from demand-side which is the category into which I would put further regulation.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  Demand- and supply-side in economics is dealing with the labour market aspect on its own and not dealing with the regulation aspect. That is why I was trying to see where you were putting the thrust of your legal impediment. If I am reading you right——

  401.  I honestly do not think we are in disagreement.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  Sorry, Chairman, I will make it very clear. Demand and supply-side are two aspects of economics, but when you talk about impediments and the legality of all this and what the Government says industry should or should not do, that is a separate facet not dealing with normal demand/supply-side economics. That could be viewed as an impediment to industry supplying jobs—could be viewed.

  402.  I am sorry I have been less pollutedly clear than anyone would have wished. Are there any other supply-side recommendations which you have? I am picking you up on your desire which you quoted from in the early part of your dissentient note that you actually wish to see unemployment reduced.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  I think, Chairman, the best contribution I could make is to try and ensure political stability, because it is interesting to note the Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin and various other things talk about a stable economy. They even use the argument for a stable currency when they talk about a single monetary system, so stability is the essence of business and in that context we do not even have political stability in Northern Ireland. So I believe if we could secure that that above all else would make a very significant contribution to the economic environment which would help the unemployment aspect.

Mr Hunter

  403.  Mr Nesbitt, I would like to ask two questions, the first one to clarify a small point. The availability for work figures that you give, do you count as available for work both what I would call the involuntary housewife and the voluntary housewife, that is to say the woman who has chosen not to work and even if there was employment available would not go out to work and the housewife who is at home because she has no alternative? Are they both available for work?
  (Mr Nesbitt)  The definition of this is somewhat, dare I say, flexible in a sense, because one has even found that when the Government introduced the new Jobseeker scheme, somehow the unemployed went down by 20,000 but the actual jobs that were provided were only about 5,000 so where did the other 15,000 go? They all of sudden became non-unemployed. Maybe they always were non-unemployed. So all of this aspect is quite subjective. On this aspect of the housewife being voluntary or involuntary, it is assumed voluntary in that sense and therefore in simplistic terms, without the detail, of it you assume those available for work are those in work or actively seeking work. A housewife may not be actively seeking work. This is part of the problem as well you see. Back to the Chairman's point, if we have a better economy, right, then those who might have migrated may no longer migrate, those who have migrated may come back home and those who were not previously seeking work may now seek work. Those available for work may rapidly increase if we get a stable situation in Northern Ireland. So it is a very very moveable thing and therefore I did put a health warning on those figures which were supplied by the FEC that they are rather subjective and they do tend to move depending on what migration there is because that is a big factor.

  404.  You said these definitions are subjective, flexible and they are moveable. I am therefore wondering if your critics could not argue that since your left hand figure is such an unknown factor, such an estimate and could vary according to how you count it and it could be out quite significantly, that you are building a pre-emptory thesis on very unsound ground.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  I would not like to say Bob Cooper is my critic but he is the one par excellence who defends the unemployment differential. If you go to the second page of his report, the last paragraph, you will see there halfway down: "As inequalities within the actual workforce continue to be addressed, the extent to which we can lower"—there is the word—"the disproportionately large proportion of Catholics who are unemployed"—that is the unemployed differential—"will be a vital aspect of the task of bringing genuine equality..." It is my critic who uses the 42 per cent. So my answer to the critic is the figures I use are the figures that they use. They are not my derived figures. That column is not a derived figure by me. The 42, the 40 and the 35-39 are not derived by me, they are the figures taken by the FEC. The point I am making is not whether the figures are derived and how they are derived, it is the conclusion upon which they are based.

  405.  I follow what you say there. The second point is unrelated. You yourself quoted earlier the two sentences that start your conclusion on page 107 of the note I have in front of me: "There is in existence today an employment market that is operating fairly, perhaps even more fairly, towards the Catholic community." Could you very briefly list what are the factors that led you to suggest that the employment market was operating "perhaps even more fairly"?
  (Mr Nesbitt)  Yes, I would refer you, Mr Hunter, to the paragraph on page 105: "An analysis of 756 private firms..." If go from that to the top of page 106, the statistics indicate that where there are simple recruitment practices, the statistics indicate that in some cases more Catholics might be recruited than otherwise would have been expected. You have to make a judgement as to why that is the case. One cannot make a judgement that is objective; it would have to be subjective. The statistics say that is what happens but the subjective judgement might be if in doubt you had better recruit more so you do not feel the Fair Employment Commission is "down on you". Those are not my words, I stress. That is a summary of a viewpoint that has been put to me and some of the others about recruitment appointees, applicants, where you saw in some cases there were more appointees in proportion to the applicants. That is not the central tenet, although I do not run away from it. I am trying to give you an answer as to why it would occur. I tried in that dissenting note to reflect statistics with subjective comments as well and not to make it, as it were, something that cannot be defended. I have tried to defend it. In fact I believe I have.

Chairman:  Mr Salter?

Mr Salter

  406.  Mr Nesbitt, it is convenient that we are on page 106 of your note because it was there I found what I thought was a rather bold statement with Serbian overtones. I refer you to the very last sentence before we get to the comment section: "It is surely not equitable to ask the Protestant community to sustain for such a long period of time a possible diminished right to employment because of the sustained higher natural increase in the Catholic population." The reason I thought this sounded rather Serbian is, as I understand it, your argument goes that jobs ought to be awarded on merit, we are against discrimination but also against affirmative action. This statement to me, and I might be misinterpreting it, seemed to suggest there is some kind of preordained balance of employment opportunity or unemployment opportunity between the Protestant and Catholic communities which had to be preserved at all costs. I would like you to consider that further because it seems to blow a hole in the rest of your argument.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  If it seems to blow a hole in the rest of my argument, and that is not to say I did not answer all the rest of the questions, that is something I ought to address in detail. If I could in the first instance take precisely what I meant in that sentence starting with "It is surely . . . " and ending with the word "population". "It is surely not equitable to ask the Protestant community to sustain for such a long period of time a possible diminished right." What I have tried to show you is that, first of all, if you are to reduce the differential because of the dynamics of the labour market, to do what Paul Magill and various others have said, you would have to recruit more Catholics than the proportion of Catholics seeking work and therefore you would have to be giving more representation to Catholics, which is a diminished right to the Protestant community. When I said "to sustain it for a long period of time", if I take you back to participation rates and take you back to what I indicated, again not my figures to take Mr Hunter's point, the Catholic availability for work in 1971 was 31 per cent. If the two populations were of similar dynamics, in other words, same birth rates, same death rates, same migration rights, same everything, each a microcosm of the other, then the 31 per cent available for work would be reasonably stable. That means that in about three or four years' time, in other words by about 1976-77, the differential would have been eliminated, but the point is that from then to now the differential has not been eliminated because those available for work is constantly increasing. We are constantly chasing a moving target and therefore constantly over the 25 years there has been a mantra over the Protestant community, perceived by some to say that you are a discriminating community. What I am saying there is that it is surely not equitable to ask the Protestant community to sustain for such a long period of time a possible diminished right because if the availability got out of kilter because of discriminatory practices, the 31/29 then it would be right to say, "Hey, we must do something over the next few years to put this right." If you do that you do not get rid of the differential because the population keeps going on so you have to keep diminishing the right. You would have to keep replicating it so I say, "It is surely not equitable to the Protestant community to sustain for such a long period of time a possible diminished right to employment." Why? Because of a sustained higher natural increase in the population of the Catholics. Higher than what? Higher than the Protestant community, because over that period of time the Catholic population actively seeking work has gone up somewhere about 30 per cent while the Protestant has gone up four per cent. I have tried to fully explain what I mean by that sentence. I would not want to say I know it does not, but I believe and trust it does not blow the argument I am trying to make by having fully explained the sentence.

  407.  We are going to have to agree to differ on this. Either I am not making myself clear or you think the answer to my question is saying what you have already said over again. I put it to you that by putting a statement in your dissenting note about diminished right to employment, it is implicit, and you are accepting there is some sort of balance of employment opportunities between the two traditions that needs to maintained. I cannot draw any other logical conclusion from that statement.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  This seems important so I want to get it right. You are saying two points. The first point is that I am talking about a diminished right. I can address that point about diminished right. I will address that first of all. What I mean by that is that if you are to redress the unemployment differential because of the dynamics involved and because of what I have tried to show you that if you recruit in proportion to Catholic/Protestant unemployed, in other words, if 60 per cent of the unemployed are Catholic, you would give them 60 per cent of the jobs, that is fair recruitment. As I have shown you in the dynamics for the next ten to 15 years, that will not reduce the differential. If the Government has a policy of reducing the differential, the only way it can do it is to reduce the right of the Protestant to get work. There is no other logical statistical conclusion you can draw. That is the first point. The second point you made——

  408.  The only point I made was that by talking in terms of rights to employment, are you not implying that there is some kind of natural order that needs to be maintained? I am not arguing about whether you use differentials as a measure or not.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  Am I arguing that there is some natural order that needs to be maintained? The only natural order that needs to be maintained is fairness and equality of opportunity and if there is unemployment there should not be any, as it were, implication that somehow any differential is other than the dynamics of the labour market. It is nothing to do with fairness. The natural order that needs to be maintained is fairness and equality and I said that at the very outset. I am not in any way arguing against fairness and equality. I am simply saying there is a benchmark that does not correlate with fairness and equality, yet it is used to correlate with it.

  409.  Are you aware of the recent statement in respect of unemployment by the leader of your party David Trimble? I quote the Sunday Tribune of March 14 of this year. "We will dedicate ourselves to solving all the problems of high employment, including the problem of high unemployment in the Roman Catholic community". Do you not think there is a danger of your remarks, possibly taken out the context, possibly not, being seen to undermine the very welcome statement by the leader of your Party?
  (Mr Nesbitt)  I am glad you have mentioned that because I was at pains to point out that is not what I am about. I am not in contradiction to the party leader. Not at all. I wish to see the unemployed reduced. I wish to see no differential in that sense. I wish to see full and equal opportunity and Catholics getting jobs and Protestants getting jobs. I can sign up to that. The First Minister signed up to a Minister for Equality to ensure that that occurs. I am making one simple point. While it is a simple point from my point of view, it is something that permeates the ether of the argument that somehow the differential implies discriminatory practices and it does not. My position and his position are not contradictory. I am very conscious that statements that politicians make can be misconstrued and can be put in a summary fashion to mislead. I trust that when this Committee deliberates—and I say it with all the genuine seriousness that I can bring to it—that you will reflect the key point that I am trying to make, that I come here as a Unionist and wish to see equality. I am coming here as a Unionist who wishes to see all the panoply that is there to demonstrate that it is properly policed. I draw a cautionary word that the statements which have been based on this differential are ill-founded statistically, and we had better make sure we are dealing with the proper aspect of labour market economics which is there is a thing called unemployment and a thing called employment and there is not necessarily a relationship between the two.

  410.  Thank you, Chairman.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  Does that allay your concern? Does that make you more at ease with what I have said to you?

  411.  The question I asked was whether you disagree with David Trimble. It is a matter of supreme irrelevance to me whether you do or you do not. I am just pointing out that he has made certain statements.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  It is not a matter of irrelevance what David Trimble and I say. It is a matter of relevance to this community in Northern Ireland. This aspect of unemployment is an extremely sensitive issue both to the Catholic community and to the Protestant community, very sensitive, and therefore it must be handled very sensitively by this Committee. I would ask this Committee to bear this in mind.

  412.  With due respect, I am not here to make speeches, I am here to ask questions and you are here to answer them.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  I am here to give you my impression of unemployment which I am trying to do.


  413.  One last question, in terms of the Fair Employment and Treatment Order which went through the House permitting recruitment from the long-term unemployed as a form of affirmative action: what view do you take of that?
  (Mr Nesbitt)  I have seen some comments about the facts, seeking clarification of affirmative action and what it means, whether it is positive discrimination or not. Affirmative action can be right across the spectrum. It can be used to encourage women to apply to occupations where very few women are employed, to take it away from Protestant and Catholic. Therefore by the very nature of it, if more Catholics and more women apply, more should be recruited. That is fair, that is reasonable. One tries to encourage a balanced workforce in every respect. It is not, dare I say, illegal and therefore who am I to say if it is not illegal? We have to watch that and different things which is positive discrimination. I have even noted in some of the documentation that people are not clear about the difference between affirmative action and positive discrimination. One is legal and the other is not; one is fair and the other is not.

  414.  I fear we have taken a little longer than the hour to which you referred at the beginning. Thank you very much for coming along to give evidence and thank you very much for the evidence you have given.
  (Mr Nesbitt)  My concluding comment would have been the comment I made to the gentleman on the left, that it is a sensitive issue which needs to be handled sensitively and I would ask this Committee to handle this issue very sensitively because of the nature of the issue and how it affects the Northern Ireland communities. Thank you.

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