Examination of Witnesses (Qustions 400
MONDAY 19 APRIL 1999
SAVAGE and MR
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
jobscould 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.
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
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
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?
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
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
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
(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 deliberatesand
I say it with all the genuine seriousness that I can bring to
itthat 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
(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.